Monthly Archives: March 2009

Rwanda

If you’ve checked out my Books page, you know that I’m reading Philip Gourevitch’s We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families.  I’ve been reading this book since I bought it in hardcover when it first came out, in 1998.  Back then my experiences in Rwanda were too fresh to allow me to dispassionately read about the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath. 

I thought 10 years might be enough time, but it isn’t really.  What happened in Rwanda was so horrific, that no amount of time will be enough to get over it.  So the idea for my book, Kwizera, has been in my head for more than 10 years.  This story has needed to come out for all that time.  But it has to be more than good.  I owe it to my Rwandan friends to make this book the best it can be, to get it right.

And that responsibility weighs on me.  As do the memories, newly resurfaced.

In between making lunch for my son, driving him to preschool, playgroup, the library, schlepping the other son to playdates and after-school activities, helping teach him to read, putting them to bed, singing them songs, giving them baths, playing Whac-a-Mole, Candy Land, Mouse Trap, I read about atrocities, politics, inhumanity.  It’s the only way I think I can get through the book.  I can’t sit and read about people who were once like family to me and what they endured, for hours at a time. 

My busy life as a mother is a blessing.  It means I can read in spurts about the Rwandan genocidaires in the camps killing other displaced Rwandans with machetes, to keep them there, to keep them from returning to Rwanda and thus legitimizing the new government.  I only have to read for a few minutes at a time about death squads, interahamwe, massacres inside churches, complicit priests, teachers and doctors.  About the rape of young girls, old women, pregnant mothers.  About reprisal shootings.  Kibeho, Goma, Nyarubuye, Kigali.

Can you believe that this could happen in the 20th century?  Even after the Genocide Convention of the 1940’s.  That political leaders could choose to exterminate an entire people?  And convince the rest of the country to follow suit?  But it did happen.  And it’s happening again in Darfur.

But I didn’t live and work in Darfur, or anywhere else in Sudan, so I’ll leave that story to someone else.  In the meantime, I have to bear the burden of my dreams and memories, and my story.

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Revision

I don’t mind revision.  I really don’t.  I like getting my hands into my sentences, paragraphs and chapters, playing around with the words and images, and making it all better.

Once the story is down on paper, revision turns it into a novel.  But it’s hard to see into your own story sometimes.  We’re too close to our work.  Distance and time can help.  Different eyes will certainly help.

I’ve realized that I’m pretty good at helping others turn their stories into novels.  In a past life I was called “Eagle-Eyes”.  I have edited websites and quarterly newsletters.  I am part of two critique groups, helping 5 writers every month.  And I recently helped a writer friend with her first novel.

Revision – I have a knack for it.  So, where do I go from here?

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