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Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
"This is an important book, well worth reading. As with translations of religious texts, the actual words are not as important as the underlying messages, which one hopes are largely intact. Still, when we see a subtitle like The Killers in Rwanda Speak, we expect to hear their voices. Instead, grammar and vocabulary do not change from person to person; they all sound like literature graduates. But unless you can read French, this is all we have of the Rwandan genocide from the perpetrators' perspective. Along with Ernst Klee et al.'s The Good Old Days: the Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders, this is disturbing but compelling reading." Doug Brown, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
In April-May 1994, 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis were massacred by their Hutu fellow citizens--about 10,000 a day, mostly being hacked to death by machete. In Machete Season, the veteran foreign correspondent Jean Hatzfeld reports on the results of his interviews with nine of the Hutu killers. They were all friends who came from a single region where they helped to kill 50,000 out of their 59,000 Tutsi neighbors, and all of them are now in prison, some awaiting execution. It is usually presumed that killers will not tell the truth about their brutal actions, but Hatzfeld elicited extraordinary testimony from these men about the genocide they had perpetrated. He rightly sees that their account raises as many questions as it answers.
Adabert, Alphonse, Ignace, and the others (most of them farmers) told Hatzfeld how the work was given to them, what they thought about it, how they did it, and what their responses were to the bloodbath. "Killing is easier than farming," one says. "I got into it, no problem," says another. Each describes what it was like the first time he killed someone, what he felt like when he killed a mother and child, how he reacted when he killed a cordial acquaintance, how 'cutting' a person with a machete differed from 'cutting' a calf or a sugarcane. And they had plenty of time to tell Hatzfeld, too, about whether and why they had reconsidered their motives, their moral responsibility, their guilt, remorse, or indifference to the crimes.
Hatzfeld's meditation on the banal, horrific testimony of the genocidaires and what it means is lucid, humane, and wise: he relates the Rwanda horror to war crimes and to other genocidal episodes in human history. Especially since the Holocaust, it has been conventional to presume that only depraved and monstrous evil incarnate could perpetrate such crimes, but it may be, he suggests, that such actions are within the realm of ordinary human conduct. To read this disturbing, enlightening and very brave book is to consider in a new light the foundation of human morality and ethics.
Jean Hatzfeld, an international reporter for Libération since 1973, is the author of many books, including another on Rwanda, Into the Quick Life, and two on the war in Croatia and Bosnia. He lives in Paris.
Linda Coverdale, the translator of Machete Season, has translated more than forty books, including Tahar Ben Jellouns This Blinding Absence of Light, which won the 2004 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She lives in Brooklyn.
Susan Sontag wrote several novels, stories, plays, and essays. Her books are translated into thirty-two languages. In 2001 she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work; in 2003, she received the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Sontag died in December of 2004.
A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
Coming in paperback in April 2006
The genocidal massacre of almost a million people in Rwanda more than a decade ago may be fading into history, but the killers are with us still, and so is the moral problem of trying to understand how such terrible crimes could have been committed. Jean Hatzfeld's astonishing account of conversations he had with some of the killers, now convicted and in jailmen who had rampaged across the fields, singing as they went, hacking to death 50,000 out of 59,000 of their neighborsoffers extraordinary insights into the nature of this collective crime. But, as Hatzfeld understands, the killers' words raised as many questions as they answer.
The ten men Hatzfeld interviewed had been friends from childhood; they stayed together during their genocidal "job," as they called it, and then in their flight to exile in Congo, during their subsequent capture and trials, and now in prison. They freely spoke to Hatzfeld about what life had been like during those terrible weeks in the spring of 1994, and what they thought about what they had done.
There has never been testimony like this. "The offenders know more than the basic facts," one acknowledges. "They have secrets in their souls." Another simply says, "Killing was less wearisome than farming." "A man is like an animal: you give him a whack on the head or the neck, and down he goes," says another. Why were they willing to talk? Did they distinguish truth from self-defensive evasion about this gruesome killing spree? Did they seek reconciliation, forgiveness, understanding? Were they remorseless, or did they suffer the nightmares of the damned?
Hatzfeld's report on this horrific testimony is humane and wise, and he relates the unprecedented material he obtained from the genocidaires to what we know of other war crimes and genocidal episodes. It has sometimes been suggested that only depraved and monstrous men could perpetrate such crimes, but it may be, Hatzfeld suggests, that these terrible actions are within the realm of ordinary human conduct.
To read this disturbing, lucid book and to hear the killer's chilling voices is to consider in a new light the foundation of human morality and ethics.
"The reader is drawn in, in effect eavesdropping on a casual conversation among killers . . . Readers who can get beyond their (justified) initial horror will find a wealth of detail here about the genocide."Alison Des Forges, Washington Post Book World
"Harrowing. The reader is drawn in, in effect eavesdropping on a casual conversation among killers . . . Readers who can get beyond their (justified) initial horror will find a wealth of detail here about the genocide."Alison Des Forges, The Washington Post Book World
"Monstrous in scope, unfathomable in cruelty, annihilating in implication, the concept of genocide all but defies imagination. That is why reading Jean Hatzfeld's interviews with perpetrators of the 1994 Rwanda massacre is so profoundly disturbing. From the mouths of killers, genocide is not outsized, not out of human scale. It is mundane. Matter-of-fact. Tedious . . . Machete Season offers no answers, no comfort, no assurance."Michael Ollove, The Capital Times
"It is usually presumed that killers will not tell the truth about their brutal actions, but Hatzfeld elicited extraordinary testimony from these men about the genocide they had perpetrated. He rightly sees that heir account raises as many questions as it answers . . . [His] meditation on the banal, horrific testimony of the genocidaires and what it means is lucid, humane, and wise: he relates the Rwanda horror to war crimes and to other genocidal episodes in human history . . . To read this disturbing, enlightening, and very brave book is to consider in a new light the foundation of human morality and ethics."Africa News
"As readers, the book leaves us feeling sort of unsettled: partly, of course, because of the nature of the material and the simple impossibility of really understanding what seems so alien to us. But the worst of it is the feeling towards the killers, the men interviewed who we feel we've just spent a couple of hours talking to. We expect to feel repugnance, disgust, distasteand these emotions are all there. But not to the extent that we expect; as Mr. Hatzfeld says, 'This is awkward to a
"This book features the testimony of 10 friends from the same village who spent day after day together, fulfilling orders to kill any Tutsi within their territory during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. While their anecdotes are shocking at first, they detail how an ordinary person with an everyday life in a farming village can be transformed into a killer. As one man explains, 'if you must obey the orders of authorities, if you have been properly prepared, if you see yourself pushed and pulled, if you see the killing will be total and without disastrous consequences for yourself, you feel soothed and reassured.' A reporter for Paris's Libration, Hatzfeld has a remarkable ability to pry into the killer's memory and conscience. One Hutu tells how 'a pain pinched his heart' when confronted with an old Tutsi soccer teammate he was obligated to kill. Others describe the regrets or nightmares they have now that the genocide is over (and they are in prison). But for the most part, the interviews reveal the killers' nave expectations for forgiveness and reconciliation once they are released. Hatzfeld offers an analysis of the psychology of the perpetrators and how the Rwandan genocide differs from other genocides in history. Steering clear of politics, this important book succeeds in offering the reader some grasp of how such unspeakable acts unfolded. Agent, Valerie Borchardt at Georges Borchardt Inc. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A trove for future historians and ethnographers seeking to explain the mechanics of genocide, and eye-opening, sobering reading for the rest of us." Kirkus Reviews
"Chilling and thoroughly absorbing." Booklist
During the spring of 1994, in a tiny country called Rwanda, some 800,000 people were hacked to death, one by one, by their neighbors in a gruesome civil war. Several years later, journalist Jean Hatzfeld traveled to Rwanda to interview ten participants in the killings, eliciting extraordinary testimony from these men about the genocide they perpetrated. As Susan Sontag wrote in the preface, Machete Season is a document that "everyone should read . . . [because making] the effort to understand what happened in Rwanda . . . is part of being a moral adult."
A veteran foreign correspondent reports on the results of his interviews with nine Hutus who helped to kill 50,000 out of their 59,000 Tutsi neighbors. This testimony of the Rwanda horror reconsiders the foundation of human morality and ethics.
About the Author
Jean Hatzfeld, an international reporter for Libération since 1973, is the author of many books, including an earlier one on Rwanda and two on the war in Croatia and Bosnia. He lives in Paris.
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