An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography

Paperback | February 27, 2007

byPaul Rusesabagina, Tom Zoellner

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A remarkable account of the amazing life story of the man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda 

Readers who were moved and horrified by Hotel Rwanda will respond even more intensely to Paul Rusesabagina’s unforgettable autobiography. As Rwanda was thrown into chaos during the 1994 genocide, Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, turned the luxurious Hotel Milles Collines into a refuge for more than 1,200 Tutsi and moderate Hutu refugees, while fending off their would-be killers with a combination of diplomacy and deception. In An Ordinary Man, he tells the story of his childhood, retraces his accidental path to heroism, revisits the 100 days in which he was the only thing standing between his “guests” and a hideous death, and recounts his subsequent life as a refugee and activist.

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A remarkable account of the amazing life story of the man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda Readers who were moved and horrified by Hotel Rwanda will respond even more intensely to Paul Rusesabagina’s unforgettable autobiography. As Rwanda was thrown into chaos during the 1994 genocide, Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, turned the luxuri...

Paul Rusesabagina was the first Rwandan manager of the Hotel Milles Collines, a European-owned luxury hotel in Rwanda. A recipient of the National Civil Rights Museum’s 2005 Freedom Award, he lives in Brussels, Belgium.Tom Zoellner has worked as a contributing editor for Men’s Health magazine and as a reporter for the San Francisco Chr...
Format:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 7.76 × 5.05 × 0.57 inPublished:February 27, 2007Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

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ISBN - 10:0143038605

ISBN - 13:9780143038603

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Profound!! Don't let the title fool you, Paul Rusesabagina is no Ordinary Man. The inspiration behind the movie Hotel Rwanda, Rusesabagina comes out with his autobiography to give you a richer view of his life, Rwanda, and what happened inside of the luxurious Hotel Milles Collines that saved the lives of over 1,200 Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide. Paul believes that words can stop violence and he shows just how true that is in this story. Drawing on all of his past - including living in a farm, going through some of priest-school, and operating 2 hotels in the Kigali region - Paul somehow manages to save the imminent slaughter of the Tutsis that have found refuge in his hotel. How exactly this happened is unbelievable. There was nothing stopping the Hutu supporters from barging into the hotel and killing everyone inside. Yet somehow, through the grace of god (though Paul admits, he's lapsed in his religious ways due to the genocide, and who can blame him?), and Paul's quick wit, they all manage to survive. Paul does not hold back in his disdain for those who never came to help. He is disgusted with the UN, and specifically Kofi Anann, who told the UN in Rwanda not to do anything. He is disgusted at how the USA would not call the acts a genocide so that they would not have to do anything about it. And while he describes the genocide, it is with utmost respect for the dead. Without being graphic, Paul paints a picture that still makes your stomach turn simply due to the magnitude of the horror. This is a story that everyone should read. Paul is a hero, or as he would like you to say it, he did his job, but he did it damn well. Can Paul's story teach us to never again let humanity commit these horrible acts? Probably not. But it can make each of us slightly more aware of what is going on in the world.
Date published: 2007-04-02

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AN ORDINARY MANAN ORDINARY MANAN AUTOBIOGRAPHYPAUL RUSESABAGINAwith Tom ZoellnerVIKING“Many fledging moralists in those days were going about our town proclaiming that there was nothing to be done about it and we should bow to the inevitable. And Tarrou, Rieux, and their friends might give one answer or another, but its conclusion was always the same, their certitude that a fight must be put up, in this way or that, and there must be no bowing down. The essential thing was to save the greatest possible number of persons from dying and being doomed to unending separation. And to do this there was only one resource: to fight the plague. There was nothing admirable about this attitude; it was merely logical.”—From The Plague, by Albert CamusACKNOWLEDGMENTSAUTHOR’S NOTEINTRODUCTIONCHAPTER ONECHAPTER TWOCHAPTER THREECHAPTER FOURCHAPTER FIVECHAPTER SIXCHAPTER SEVENCHAPTER EIGHTCHAPTER NINECHAPTER TENCHAPTER ELEVENSELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHYACKNOWLEDGMENTSThe authors wish to thank Kathryn Court, Jill Kneerim,Alexis Washam, and Paul Buckley for their invaluableassistance in the production of this book.AUTHOR’S NOTEThis is a work of nonfiction. All of the people and events described herein are true as I remember them. For legal and ethical reasons, I have given pseudonyms to a handful of private Rwandan citizens. Each time this is done, the change is noted in the text. Paul RusesabaginaINTRODUCTIONMy name is Paul Rusesabagina. I am a hotel manager. In April 1994, when a wave of mass murder broke out in my country, I was able to hide 1, 268 people inside the hotel where I worked.When the militia and the Army came with orders to kill my guests, I took them into my office, treated them like friends, offered them beer and cognac, and then persuaded them to neglect their task that day. And when they came back, I poured more drinks and kept telling them they should leave in peace once again. It went on like this for seventy-six days. I was not particularly eloquent in these conversations. They were no different from the words I would have used in saner times to order a shipment of pillow-cases, for example, or tell the shuttle van driver to pick up a guest at the airport. I still don’t understand why those men in the militias didn’t just put a bullet in my head and execute every last person in the rooms upstairs but they didn’t. None of the refugees in my hotel were killed. Nobody was beaten. Nobody was taken away and made to disappear. People were being hacked to death with machetes all over Rwanda, but that five-story building became a refuge for anyone who could make it to our doors. The hotel could offer only an illusion of safety, but for whatever reason, the illusion prevailed and I survived to tell the story, along with those I sheltered. There was nothing particularly heroic about it. My only pride in the matter is that I stayed at my post and continued to do my job as manager when all other aspects of decent life vanished. I kept the Hotel Mille Collines open, even as the nation descended into chaos and eight hundred thousand people were butchered by their friends, neighbors, and countrymen.It happened because of racial hatred. Most of the people hiding in my hotel were Tutsis, descendants of what had once been the ruling class of Rwanda. The people who wanted to kill them were mostly Hutus, who were traditionally farmers. The usual stereotype is that Tutsis are tall and thin with delicate noses, and Hutus are short and stocky with wider noses, but most people in Rwanda fit neither description. This divide is mostly artificial, a leftover from history, but people take it very seriously, and the two groups have been living uneasily alongside each other for more than five hundred years.You might say the divide also lives inside me. I am the son of a Hutu farmer and his Tutsi wife. My family cared not the least bit about this when I was growing up, but since bloodlines are passed through the father in Rwanda, I am technically a Hutu. I married a Tutsi woman, whom I love with a fierce passion, and we had a child of mixed descent together. This type of blended family is typical in Rwanda, even with our long history of racial prejudice. Very often we can’t tell each other apart just by looking at one another. But the difference between Hutu and Tutsi means everything in Rwanda. In the late spring and early summer of 1994 it meant the difference between life and death.Between April 6, when the plane of President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down with a missile, and July 4, when the Tutsi rebel army captured the capital of Kigali, approximately eight hundred thousand Rwandans were slaughtered. This is a number that cannot be grasped with the rational mind. It is like trying—all at once—to understand that the earth is surrounded by billions of balls of gas just like our sun across a vast blackness. You cannot understand the magnitude. Just try! Eight hundred thousand lives snuffed out in one hundred days. That’s eight thousand lives a day. More than five lives per minute. Each one of those lives was like a little world in itself. Some person who laughed and cried and ate and thought and felt and hurt just like any other person, just like you and me. A mother’s child, every one irreplaceable.And the way they died …I can’t bear to think about it for long. Many went slowly from slash wounds, watching their own blood gather in pools in the dirt, perhaps looking at their own severed limbs, oftentimes with the screams of their parents or their children or their husbands in their ears. Their bodies were cast aside like garbage, left to rot in the sun, shoveled into mass graves with bulldozers when it was all over. It was not the largest genocide in the history of the world, but it was the fastest and most efficient.At the end, the best you can say is that my hotel saved about four hours’ worth of people. Take four hours away from one hundred days and you have an idea of just how little I was able to accomplish against the grand design. What did I have to work with? I had a five-story building. I had a cooler full of drinks. I had a small stack of cash in the safe. And I had a working telephone and I had my tongue. It wasn’t much. Anybody with a gun or a machete could have taken these things away from me quite easily. My disappearance—and that of my family—would have barely been noticed in the torrents of blood coursing through Rwanda in those months. Our bodies would have joined the thousands in the east-running rivers floating toward Lake Victoria, their skins turning white with water rot.I wonder today what exactly it was that allowed me to stop the killing clock for four hours.There were a few things in my favor, but they do not explain everything. I was a Hutu because my father was Hutu, and this gave me a certain amount of protection against immediate execution. But it was not only Tutsis who were slaughtered in the genocide; it was also the thousands of moderate Hutus who were suspected of sympathizing with or even helping the Tutsi “cockroaches.” I was certainly one of these cockroach-lovers. Under the standards of mad extremism at work then I was a prime candidate for a beheading.Another surface advantage: I had control of a luxury hotel, which was one of the few places during the genocide that had the image of being protected by soldiers. But the important word in that sentence is image. In the opening days of the slaughter, the United Nations had left four unarmed soldiers staying at the hotel as guests. This was a symbolic gesture. I was also able to bargain for the service of five Kigali policemen. But I knew these men were like a wall of tissue paper standing between us and a flash flood.I remembered all too well what had happened at a place called Official Technical School in a suburb called Kicukiro, where nearly two thousand terrified refugees had gathered because there was a small detachment of United Nations soldiers staying there. The refugees thought—and I don’t blame them—that the blue helmets of the UN would save them from the mobs and their machetes. But after all the foreign nationals at the school were put onto airplanes safely, the Belgians themselves left the country, leaving behind a huge crowd of refugees begging for protection, even begging to be shot in the head so they wouldn’t have to face the machetes. The killing and dismemberment started just minutes later. It would have been better if the soldiers had never been there to offer the illusion of safety. Even the vaguest rumor of rescue had been fatal to those on the wrong side of the racial divide. They had clustered in one spot and made it easy for their executioners to find them. And I knew my hotel could become an abattoir just like that school.Yet another of my advantages was a very strange one. I knew many of the architects of the genocide and had been friendly with them. It was, in a way, part of my job. I was the general manager of a hotel called the Diplomates, but I was eventually asked to take charge of a sister property, the nearby Hotel Mille Collines, where most of the events described in this book took place. The Mille Collines was the place in Kigali where the power classes of Rwanda came to meet Western businessmen and dignitaries. Before the killing started I had shared drinks with most of these men, served them complimentary plates of lobster, lit their cigarettes. I knew the names of their wives and their children. I had stored up a large bank of favors. I cashed them all in—and then borrowed heavily— during the genocide. My preexisting friendship with General Augustin Bizimungu in particular helped save the Mille Collines from being raided many times over. But alliances always shift, particularly in the chaos of war, and I knew my supply of liquor and favors would run dry in some crucial quarters. Before the hundred days were over a squad of soldiers was dispatched to kill me. I survived only after a desperate half hour during which I called in even more favors.All these things helped me during the genocide. But they don’t explain everything. Let me tell you what I think was the most important thing of all.I will never forget walking out of my house the first day of the killings. There were people in the streets who I had known for seven years, neighbors of mine who had come over to our place for our regular Sunday cookouts. These people were wearing military uniforms that had been handed out by the militia. They were holding machetes and were trying to get inside the houses of those they knew to be Tutsi, those who had Tutsi relatives, or those who refused to go along with the murders.There was one man in particular whom I will call Peter, though that is not his real name. He was a truck driver, about thirty years old, with a young wife. The best word I can use to describe him is an American word: cool. Peter was just a cool guy; so nice to children, very gentle, kind of a kidder, but never mean with his humor. I saw him that morning wearing a military uniform and holding a machete dripping in blood. Watching this happen in my own neighborhood was like looking up at a blue summer sky and seeing it suddenly turning to purple. The entire world had gone mad around me.What had caused this to happen? Very simple: words.The parents of these people had been told over and over again that they were uglier and stupider than the Tutsis. They were told they would never be as physically attractive or as capable of running the affairs of the country. It was a poisonous stream of rhetoric designed to reinforce the power of the elite. When the Hutus came to power they spoke evil words of their own, fanning the old resentments, exciting the hysterical dark places in the heart.The words put out by radio station announcers were a major cause of the violence. There were explicit exhortations for ordinary citizens to break into the homes of their neighbors and kill them where they stood. Those commands that weren’t direct were phrased in code language that everybody understood: “Cut the tall trees. Clean your neighborhood. Do your duty.” The names and addresses of targets were read over the air. If a person was able to run away his position and direction of travel were broadcast and the crowd followed the chase over the radio like a sports event.The avalanche of words celebrating racial supremacy and encouraging people to do their duty created an alternate reality in Rwanda for those three months. It was an atmosphere where the insane was made to seem normal and disagreement with the mob was fatal.Rwanda was a failure on so many levels. It started as a failure of the European colonists who exploited trivial differences for the sake of a divide-and-rule strategy. It was the failure of Africa to get beyond its ethnic divisions and form true coalition governments. It was a failure of Western democracies to step in and avert the catastrophe when abundant evidence was available. It was a failure of the United States for not calling a genocide by its right name. It was the failure of the United Nations to live up to its commitments as a peacemaking body.All of these come down to a failure of words. And this is what I want to tell you: Words are the most effective weapons of death in man’s arsenal. But they can also be powerful tools of life. They may be the only ones.Today I am convinced that the only thing that saved those 1,268 people in my hotel was words. Not the liquor, not money, not the UN. Just ordinary words directed against the darkness. They are so important. I used words in many ways during the genocide—to plead, intimidate, coax, cajole, and negotiate. I was slippery and evasive when I needed to be. I acted friendly toward despicable people. I put cartons of champagne into their car trunks. I flattered them shamelessly. I said whatever I thought it would take to keep the people in my hotel from being killed. I had no cause to advance, no ideology to promote beyond that one simple goal. Those words were my connection to a saner world, to life as it ought to be lived.I am not a politician or a poet. I built my career on words that are plain and ordinary and concerned with everyday details. I am nothing more or less than a hotel manager, trained to negotiate contracts and charged to give shelter to those who need it. My job did not change in the genocide, even though I was thrust into a sea of fire. I only spoke the words that seemed normal and sane to me. I did what I believed to be the ordinary things that an ordinary man would do. I said no to outrageous actions the way I thought that anybody would, and it still mystifies me that so many others could say yes.ONEI WAS BORN on the side of a steep hill in the summer of 1954. My father was a farmer, my mother his helper. Our house was made of mud and sticks. We were about a mile away from the nearest village. The first world I can remember was green and bright, full of cooking fires and sisters murmuring and drying sorghum and corn leaves in the wind and the warm arms of my mother.Our house had three rooms. There were small windows with pieces of hinged wood to keep out the sun and rain. The house was built on an incline of terraced farms, but the small yard outside was flat. My mother kept it swept clean of seedpods and leaves with a homemade broom made out of bundled twigs. When I grew old enough she would let me help her. I still remember the happiness I felt on the day when she trusted me to do it by myself.From the courtyard you could look south across the winding Ruvayaga Valley to the opposite hill. It seemed an awesome distance, like looking into another country. The hill was laced, as ours was, with houses made out of mud and stucco and baked red tiles, dots of cattle grazing, the groves of avocado plants, and the paddlewide leaves of the banana trees that practically sparkled in the sun. On a perfect day you could lie in the grass near our home and see people at work in the fields on the next hill. They looked like ants. Every now and then somebody’s machete would catch the angle of the sun and you’d see the winking of metal across the valley. And far, far in the distance you could make out the clustered roofs of the village called Gitwe, where my parents told me I would one day learn how to read and write, which neither of them could do.We spoke the beautiful language of Kinyarwanda, in which I first learned the names of the world’s many things in rich deep vowels made in the back of the mouth. Bird, inyoni. Mud, urwoondo. Stones, amabuye. Milk, amata.To enter our house through the front door you had to step up on a stoop made of gray rocks. It couldn’t have been more than two feet off the courtyard, but it seemed like a towering height. I used to climb in on my hands and knees. To the side of the door was a flat stone used for sharpening machetes. There was a shallow depression in the middle where rainwater would collect. After a storm I would splash my hands around in the cool water, putting it on my face and letting it dribble down my cheeks. It was the best part of the rain. When those storms came in September the lightning and thunder scared me. My three younger brothers and I would sometimes huddle together during the worst ones. And then we would laugh at each other for our cowardice. Thunder, inkuba.My parents raised nine children altogether, and I was an island in time’s river, separated by six years from my older sister and five years from my younger brother. I got a lot of attention from my mother as a result, and trailed her around the house hoping she would reward me with a chore. The firmament of our relationship was work; we expressed love to one another in the thousands of little daily actions that kept a rural African family together. She showed me how to take care of the baby goats and cows, and how to grind cassava into flour. Even when I came back to visit my parents when I was grown it would be only minutes before I would find myself holding an empty jerrican and going to fetch well water for my mother.There was a narrow path from the main road that twisted up the side of the ridge and passed through groves of banana trees. I had learned how to walk on this path. It was our connection with a small village called Nkomero, which occupies the top of one of the hundreds of thousands of hills in Rwanda. The nickname for my country is “the land of thousands of hills,” or le pays des mille collines, but this signifies a gross undercount. There are at least half a million hills, maybe more. If geography creates culture, then the Rwandan mind is shaped like solid green waves. We are the children of the hills, the grassy slopes, the valley roads, the spider patterns of rivers, and the millions of rivulets and crevasses and buckles of earth that ripple across this part of Central Africa like the lines on the tired face of an elder. If you ironed Rwanda flat, goes the joke, it would be ten times as big. In this country we don’t talk about coming from a particular village, but a particular hill. We had to learn the hard way how to arrange our plots of corn and cabbage into flat terraces on the sloping ground so as not to turn a farm into an avalanche. Every inch of arable land is used this way. The daily walk up to a family grove can be an exercise in calf-straining misery going up, and in thigh-wracking caution going down. I think our legs must be the most muscular on the African continent.There is a story about the conqueror of Mexico, Hernán Cortés, who was asked by the king of Spain to describe the topography of the rugged new nation. Cortés reached for the map on the table and crumpled it up into a ball. “That,” he said, “is what Mexico looks like.” He could just as easily have been talking about Rwanda. If you didn’t grow up here you would be likely to get very, very lost among those seductive hills and valleys.

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTIONPaul Rusesabagina believes he survived history’s fastest-moving genocide simply because he acted as if things were normal. As a hotel manger during Rwanda’s murderous spring of 1994, Rusesabagina navigated a world of mass murder with the internal compass he used to steer through office politics.When a crazed army officer barged into the Hotel Des Milles Collines, Rusesabagina treated him much as he would any angry hotel guest. He offered the man a drink, and then deferred to every statement his guest made. And finally, when the man had calmed down, Rusesabagina suggested a solution that might make all parties happy. Rusesabagina’s now legendary work of protecting himself and the hotel’s guests was, in a way, just damage control on a sublime level. He bet his own life on his belief that, even in the midst of a genocide, most people are only a conversation away from their normal selves.This may seem a very strange belief for a contemporary Rwandan to hold. Before 1994, the exceptionally courteous population of this tiny, beautiful African country seemed anything but dangerous, but behind their smiles, Rwandans nursed deep political and historical grievances. Angry talk shows on the radio stoked long-held resentments against the Tutsi minority. On April 4, 1994, when the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down, chaos erupted. Neighbor began attacking neighbor, and a killing spree began that would eventually claim the lives of at least half a million people in the space of just a few months.But Rusesabagina clung to his confidence in the power of language. Even when the streets were littered with corpses, he patiently continued talking until each killer in front of him turned into just a man, open to making a deal.An Ordinary Man makes clear that the most famous hero of the Rwandan genocide survived above all because of his strength of character and his capitalist wits. Rusesabagina had originally trained to be a pastor, but as an industrious young man, he decided there was little opportunity in the clergy and instead found a career in a multinational corporation. This author’s lifesaving tools were to be found in his leather-bound book of professional contacts.Toward the end of An Ordinary Man, Rusesabagina resigns himself to the fact that he cannot fully answer his children’s questions about what the history of the genocide means. “The only thing I am able to do is keep talking to them,” he writes. It’s a neat distillation of Rusesabagina’s philosophy: evil remains in the world, but an ongoing discussion will keep us grounded. ABOUT PAUL RUSESABAGINAPaul Rusesabagina was the first Rwandan manager of the Hotel Milles Collines, a European-owned luxury hotel in Rwanda. A recipient of the National Civil Rights Museum’s 2005 Freedom Award, he lives in Brussels, Belgium. A CONVERSATION WITH PAUL RUSESABAGINAQ. Your book suggests that you did nothing extraordinary: “I was doing the job I was entrusted to do by the Sabena Corporation—that was my greatest and only pride in the matter.” Do you think you are understating the exceptional courageousness and intelligence of your work during the genocide?A. Not at all. If I was able to save lives, it was only because I had some useful tools at my disposal. I had a five-story building in which to hide people. I had a cooler full of beer and wine with which to bribe the killers. I had some cash to spread around when alcohol wouldn’t work. And I had ten years worth of friendship with some of the perpetrators of the killings. So they knew who I was and were willing to listen to my line of reasoning. Anybody else with this kind of advantage could have done what I did.Q. You describe standing on the hotel’s roof at dawn and preparing for your likely death. What effect did moments like that have on your decisions at the time, and how have they affected your life since the genocide?A. They made me realize just how short life is, and how precious the small pleasures of life can be. I regretted not spending more time appreciating the little things in my life that could have brought me such happiness: the smell of a fresh summer morning, my wife’s smile, the taste of good coffee, the laughter of my children. It also brought me face-to-face with a central truth of life. Some of the only things that really matter in this world are the sacrifices we make for other people. Our chance to make a difference in this world is so slim. We have to take advantage of every opportunity put before us. That is why I have resolved to enjoy each and every minor pleasure of life, and have resolved to speak for as long and as well as I can about the importance of staying sane and compassionate in the face of insanity.Q. Before the genocide, why were you drawn to radio broadcasts that screamed nonsense about the evils of Tutsis?A. Part of it was my job. As the manager of the best hotel in Rwanda, I had to stay informed about what the nation was saying to itself. There is also a strange fascination with rhetoric that grows more and more ludicrous. You almost expect it to be revealed as a joke. But in this case it was not a joke. I still had to tune in. We never accomplish anything when we shut out our adversaries. You have to know what people are saying in order to argue against their points of view.Q. Why was the Rwandan genocide the fastest one in history?A. More than eight hundred thousand people were killed in less than one hundred days. It was not done with gas chambers and bullets, but with clubs and machetes and simple agricultural tools. The monstrous efficiency was due to a few factors: the power of the media to whip up people’s hatred, the carefully organized structure of Rwandan government and society, and the streak of obedience that runs through my culture. Often during the 1994 genocide, the Tutsi and moderate Hutu waited silently at roadblocks for their turn to be slaughtered. Many accepted their fate without a peep of protest. We have a deep-seated respect for authority figures in my country. Those who were ordered to kill their neighbors often asked no questions. This is not something of which to be proud. But it has happened in every other culture that has fallen prey to genocidal madness.Q. How important was your training as a hotel employee in your survival during the genocide?A. It was crucial. Being a hotel manager taught me how to be charming and courtly. It taught me the art of negotiation and compromise. It taught me how to be unyielding when I needed to be firm, and how to be gracious in the face of anger. It also taught me how to keep the physical property secure and how to make guests feel comfortable in strange situations. These are everyday skills. I never expected to use them in a killing zone. But they worked there as well.Q. Do you think the leaders of the world have really learned anything since the genocide in 1994?A. I would like to say yes, but the continuing inaction in Darfur has been sickening. What is happening there is exactly what happened in Rwanda, only at a slower pace. The United States has branded it a genocide, but has done nothing concrete to save lives. The international community has not been aggressive enough in making Sudan accountable for the slaughter in its own territory.Q. How do you feel about your newfound celebrity?A. I have very mixed feelings. I am certainly not the only one who refused to accommodate the killers. There are so many people in Rwanda who risked their lives to save strangers, and many of them died as a result. We will never know all their names or completely appreciate the sacrifices they made. I wish my country had never had this stream of hatred flowing through it. If there is any good in all the attention that has come to the events at the Hotel Des Milles Collines, it is the opportunity I now have to spread a very simple message—that ordinary people all over the world have the power to defeat evil. All that it takes is kind words and simple decency.Q. Your organization supports “children of bad memories,” whose mothers were raped or killed during the genocide. In general, how are these children doing, more than a decade later?A. These children are now emerging into adolescence. Many of them grew up without that most basic need: a mother’s love. This has left a lot of them resentful and alienated. I worry about these young men and women. It will take much love and effort to ensure they have a sense of meaning and purpose. They did nothing to deserve their fate. I fear that they may be susceptible to the same kind of nihilism and poisonous rhetoric that mesmerized so many Rwandans in the spring of 1994. But it doesn’t have to be this way. As I have kept saying, the tools of evil can also be converted into tools for good. Machetes can also chop mangos for hungry people. We can still make a difference in Rwanda.Q. You have been a hero to many people. But who are your own heroes?A. I think the two men I have admired most are my father and Nelson Mandela. My father, Thomas Rupufre, was a quiet man, but a very strong man. He was a banana farmer who never learned how to read, but I think he was one of the wisest men who ever lived. He always spoke with a calm heart and with a sense of dignity. I never once heard him raise his voice or lose his temper. But we always listened to him carefully in our family. He taught me the tremendous power of words. And Mandela showed the world the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. He had every reason to hate his adversaries. But he chose a better path. It was because of him that the people of South Africa were able to sit around a table and talk. We need more of that today in Rwanda. Perhaps we will not be the best of friends. It may be too early for that. But we might be able to at least talk to one another. DISCUSSION QUESTIONSRusesabagina writes that “a false view of history is a toxin in the bloodstream.” How have you experienced this in your own life? Is there such a thing as a completely true view of history? The culture of hate enabled Hutu murderers to think of themselves as victims because “the person whose throat you do not cut will be the one who cuts yours.” Where do you think that sentiment arises from? How do you think it can be counteracted? Rusesabagina describes how he would listen to absurdly racist radio debates. Though he loathed the opinions expressed, he found the shows fascinating. Why do you think people are drawn to media sources that they disapprove of? When you see a man like Rusesabagina (or Oskar Schindler in the film Schindler’s List) save lives by paying bribes to government agents, does it change how you look at the role graft plays in society? How does Rusesabagina use the “Rwandan No” as a way to critique first his own culture and then the international community? Given Rusesabagina’s experiences, what do you think the future holds for Rwanda? What different choices do you think you would have made if you had been in Rusesabagina’s position? What effect do Rusesabagina’s accounts of the actions of the United Nations and the United States have on your impression of either? Do the horrors described in the book make you look at Africa differently? 

Editorial Reviews

Rusesabagina . . . weaves his country’s history with his personal history into a rich narrative that attempts to explain the unexplainable. . . . The book’s emotional power comes from his understatement and humility. (The Boston Globe)An extraordinary cautionary tale. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)Rusesabagina’s story of survival amid manic slaughter is as awful as it is gripping. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)Read this book. It will humble and inspire you. (Sunday Telegraph, London)Extraordinary—horrific and tragic, but also inspiring, because Rusesabagina refuses to give up his belief in the basic decency of humanity. (The Times, London)