We may spend much of our time exploring Rwanda by bicycle, but over the years we’ve read some of the best books about Rwanda too. And although much of the most celebrated work covers the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, the range and quality of literature is quite staggering. Here are some of our absolute favourites.
‘LAND OF SECOND CHANCES’ BY TIM LEWIS
If you are going to read one book about Rwanda before, during or after your time with us, we recommend this story of the rise of the Rwandan cycling team. While many of the books about Rwanda focus largely on the events surrounding the 1994 genocide, Tim Lewis’ first book is essentially a tale of hope and redemption.
Adrien Niyonshuti is a member of the Rwandan cycling team. He was seven years old when he lost his family in the genocide that tore Rwanda apart. Almost twenty years later he has a shot at representing his country at the Olympics.
‘WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES’ BY PHILIP GOUREVITCH
In April 1994, the Rwandan government called upon everyone in the Hutu majority to kill each member of the Tutsi minority. Over the next three months 800,000 Tutsis perished in the most unambiguous case of genocide since Hitler’s was against the Jews. Philip Gourevitch’s haunting work is an anatomy of the war in Rwanda, a vivid history of the tragedy’s background, and an unforgettable account of its aftermath.
‘SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL’ BY ROMEO DAILLAIRE
When Romeo Daillaire was called on to serve as force commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda, he believed that his assignment was to help two warring parties achieve the peace they both wanted. Instead, he was exposed to the most barbarous and chaotic display of civil war and genocide in the past decade. In ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’, General Daillaire recreates the awful history that the global community chose to ignore and, in doing so, becomes the highest-ranking officer ever to share such experiences with readers.
‘WHEN THE HILLS ASK FOR YOUR BLOOD’ BY DAVID BELTON
Former BBC Newsnight producer Belton, one of the first journalists into Rwanda in 1994, tells of the horrors he experienced first-hand. A story of bravery and forgiveness, he follows the lives of a few of those caught up in the genocide and he revisits a country still marked with blood in search of those who survived and the legacy of those who did not.
‘LIFE LAID BARE’ BY JEAN HATZFELD
In the hills of the Bugesera, an average of five out of six Tutsis were killed during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. French author and journalist Jean Hatzfeld travelled to the area so he could speak to the survivors.
Life Laid Bare tells the stories of those who lived through the genocide, and speaks for those who are no longer there. Winner of the Prix France Culture and the Prix Pierre Mille, Life Laid Bare is a story of courage and resilience and a reminder of our own moral responsibility.
‘A SUNDAY AT THE POOL IN KIGALI’ BY GIL COURTEMANCHE
This moving love story is set among the horror of Rwanda’s genocide. The pool at the Mille-Collines hotel is frequented by all sorts of privileged Kigali residents, including UN peacekeepers, aid workers, and Rwanda bourgeoisie. Among them is Canadian journalist and film-maker, Bernard Valcourt, who falls in love with a hotel waitress named Gentille. A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali follows the couple’s love affair against a backdrop of civil unrest and genocide.
There are many other books about Rwanda that are well worth reading. These include ‘Running the Rift’ by Naomi Benaron, ‘Rwanda Inc.’ by Patricia Crisafulli and Andrea Redmond, ‘Baking Cakes in Kigali’ by Gaile Parkin, and ‘God Sleeps in Rwanda’ by Joseph Sebarenzi. A harrowing but excellent film is SHOOTING DOGS and, in 2018, the BBC produced BLACK EARTH RISING to high acclaim.