How does one review a memoir that details living through the Rwandan genocide in 1994? Paul Rusesabagina, manager of the Hotel Milles Collines, writes about his experience during that dark time in his new memoir. If you’ve seen the movie Hotel Rwanda, which is based on his life, you’ve seen some of the most visceral, awful, blood filled parts. His memoir deals with the more personal aspects, rather than focusing on scenes that must have been too mind-boggling for the human mind to comprehend.
I worried when picking this book up for the first time that Paul Rusesabagina would come across as self-important, but instead he just sounds sincere. As he says, “I am a hotel manager who was doing his job. That is really the best you can say about me.” In just 100 days, over 800,000 people were slaughtered, many hacked to death by machetes, which had been imported for this strict purpose. He writes about the events that led up to this atrocity as well as weaving in the story of his childhood. We hear about his wise father, who taught him the verbal skills and help infuse him with the wiseness that would save himself, his family, and 1,268 people later on in 1994.
The tone of this book is incredibly personal. You can almost hear Rusesabagina telling you his story in one ear as you read. He refuses to believe that everyone is either good or evil. Each person has a bit of both inside and that’s what enabled him to live day to day. He believed that as long as he could find the soft part of a person, he could win any negotiation. He sat with some of the main men behind the genocide, and even though he was harboring wanted Tutsis, was able to keep the hotel as a safe haven for several months. He dismisses the criticism from those who wonder how he could be friendly with such killers. He was only thinking about saving the people in his hotel. Evil men or not, they had the power to let the killers in or to keep them outside at the gate. Rusesabagina’s sincerity paints this entire memoir. How any man could survive let alone with such humility leaves one feeling pretty humble.