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A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak Paperback – January 1, 2008
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- Publisher : Serpent's Tail (January 1, 2008)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1852429887
- ISBN-13 : 978-1852429881
- Item Weight : 5.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.08 x 0.67 x 7.76 inches
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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What makes these two books so exceptional is that they convey the violence in Rwanda from the viewpoints of both the criminals and the victims. "A Time for Machetes" is based on interviews with gang-members of Hutu death-squads who perpetrated most of the killings of Tutsis during the genocide. Hatzfeld interviewed these people in prison while they were awaiting trial for their crimes. "Into the Quick of Life" explores the other side and relates the experiences of fourteen Tutsi survivors. Their testimonies were passed on to the UN International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda as documentary evidence. Apart from a brief two or three page introduction about the genocide, neither of the two books contain any editorial comment from the author. Instead, Hatzfeld simply chooses to let each person unfold their story in turn one after the other, knowing that these are powerful enough to speak for themselves.
The reader will learn how village communities where Hutus and Tutsis had peacefully coexisted for years were suddenly torn asunder by a violent frenzy of murder. People whose families had been friends for generations denounced one another on the slightest pretext: jealousy, ambition, material greed, long-standing rows. Any excuse was good to rid oneself of cumbersome rivals and achieve one's aims. The distress of the Tutsi women is especially poignant considering that rape followed by execution was a systematic feature of the genocide. What is also clear is that these mass-killings were meticulously planned, exploiting cross-cultural animosities dating back to colonial times. To my knowledge, there is no other work that explores in such depth the effects of violence on African society.
I understood this was a masterpiece when I read the passage in which a young woman explains why the Hutus made the machete a symbol of the genocide. The Machete, she says, is the basic farming tool of all peasant Rwandan families. It's an instantly recognizable object that is used in all kinds of daily chores in the fields and around the house. Most of the genocidal killers were Hutu farmers who were not professional soldiers. It was far easier and more cost-effective to coerce them into using a familiar machete than to waste weeks in supplying them with guns and training. The genocide had to be carried out swiftly, before the Tutsis had time to escape. The machete therefore became the ubiquitous symbol of this macabre chapter of history.
If you want to understand what happened in Rwanda during 1994, then these two books are what you are looking for.
Top reviews from other countries
There's an old line that history is written by the victors so it's interesting to see a book that focuses on those who lost the conflict and lost their freedom. Sadly, the true losers are the 800 000 dead Tutsis whose voices we can never hear.
The book is one we SHOULD read but won't necessarily want to. It was on my Amazon wish list for about 10 years before I tracked down a second hand copy. It's not a 'Rwandan Genocide 101' sort of book as you'll get more out of this if you already know what happened and understand the basics. If you are not a non-fiction fan, my top recommendation for a novel about the genocide will always be Gil Courtemanche's 'A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali' which is both a gripping story and a fantastic introduction to the background and events of the 1994 genocide. This is a case where fiction is more powerful because no man in an interview would ever admit to some of the things that happen in 'A Sunday at the Pool'.
The books combine's Hatzfeld's reflections on the genocide with the extracts from interviews. The two don't always knit together very neatly. Sometimes the structure works when the extracts focus on specific topics, but all too often I found myself thinking I was reading the same things over and over again. Not just because the men killed together and so experienced together, but because the same reflections popped up throughout the chapters.
I also found myself not really sure what Hatzfeld felt about some of the topics and I whilst some ideas hit home - for example his claim that the killings of men and boys in Srebrenica during the Balkan conflict were a massacre but not genocide because they let the women and girls go - they also left me wondering if definitions really matter when you're lying dead in the bottom of a pit. Similarly comparisons again and again with the Holocaust just left me feeling that there's no need to create a 'hierarchy of horror' but each horrific event can stand on its own without the need for comparison.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the book is the utter hopelessness of Rwanda's situation. In almost every other such mass killing there are heroes -people who hid their friends, neighbours, or even total strangers, women who passed off other people's children as their own to protect them, even just people who stood up and said "No!" and refused to get involved. The complete societal insanity of 1994 seems to have been like a contagion of fury and killing like something from a horror story, and one without any heroes to soften the blows.
'A Time for Machetes' is an important book because of the insight it offers to the minds of the killers. It's also one with an interesting approach because it's not a big city book or a big man book - this isn't about the leaders or the architects of the genocide or the people in the cities - instead it puts the focus on a group of 'every man' characters -just a bunch of guys who knew each other, had beers together, played football, and lived on the same 'hill'. A bunch of guys who then went out together with their machetes and killed another bunch of men, women, children and babies with whom they'd lived, had beers, played football and lived on the same hill.