Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Completed: We Wish to Inform You...


I really need to inject some levity into the reading mix, because these brutally depressing books are overwhelming me. I mean, I'm glad I read this,

Historical background, the Jenny version,  in one paragraph: In the late 1800s, European countries colonized Africa and spent the next 80 or so years royally fucking the place up. After decolonization in the late 50s and 60s, they left behind a raft of problems, propped up puppet dictators, and took off with a huge amount of the continent's wealth in their pockets. In Rwanda, a teeny tiny little country, colonizers had stirred up ethnic hatred between 2 groups, the Hutus and the Tutsi. By the mid-1990s, this long-standing conflict reached a rolling boil and the majority Hutus formed a party, Hutu Power, who decided to completely remove the Tutsis from the face of the Earth. On April 6th, 1994, the President of Rwanda died in a plane crash, and the Hutus used it as a pretext to attack the Tutsis. Over the next 100 days, the Hutus turned on their lifelong friends, neighbors, and countrymen and slaughtered about 1 million people. The Hutus systematically killed the Tutsis, roughly 100 people per hour, at the urging of the Hutu Power party, and they did it mostly by machete.

The international community did nothing. Less than nothing, actually. The UN field commander at the time said that with 5000 men, he probably could have put a stop to the whole thing. The US, rather than increasing the number of soldiers, instead insisted that UN peacekeepers be removed from Rwanda. The French came in and created a clear zone that they used to HELP the Hutus, and perhaps even provided them with more arms.

Now, I had known the rough outline of the thing. But it was this upcoming part of the story that I knew nothing about that was just as appalling in its own way. After killing a million Tutsis in those few months, the Hutu Power party urged the Hutus to flee from Rwanda. They insisted the entire time that it was self-defense and that the Tutsis were in fact to blame. The party elites told common Hutus that if they didn't flee from Rwanda, they would be killed by a Tutsi-led government that was fighting for control of Rwanda. So millions of Hutu killers fled into neighboring countries, creating a massive humanitarian crisis, living in huge refugee camps....and international aid organizations rushed onto the scene, TO SHELTER, FEED, AND SUPPORT THE PERPETRATORS OF THE GENOCIDE. The remaining Tutsis inside Rwanda, those who lost their families and everything, got nothing. Within a few years, the camps were forcibly emptied and the killers were moved back to Rwanda to live side by side with what remained of their victims.

I mean, really?

I dog eared so many things in this book that I wanted to share and write about, but there were some of the quotes that will stick with me for a long time.

"Genocide, after all, is an exercise in community building. A vigorous totalitarian order requires that people be invested in the leaders' scheme, and while genocide may be the most perverse and ambitious means to this end, it is also the most comprehensive" (95). 
These sentences stopped me in my tracks as I was reading. Genocide is community building?! But when you think about it, and the types of civilizations that have carried it out, that does seem to be the common, awful factor. We kill those people because THEY are not like US, and WE are better than THEM, and THEY don't deserve to be here. Genocide apparently isn't too impossible to imagine once you've turned "people into a people"(202). Absolutely chilling. Certainly gives me pause when I hear the angry rhetoric about Muslims or Mexicans or all the people other Americans seem to hate these days. What's the endgame to all that hatred?

"Just as the state's police swear to prevent and punish murder, so the signers of the Genocide Convention swore to police a brave new world order...The authors and signers of the Genocide Convention knew perfectly well that they had not fought WWII to stop the Holocaust but contain fascist aggression. What made those victorious powers, which dominated the UN then even more than they do now, imagine they would act differently in the future?" (149).
As you know, I teach Anne Frank every year, as so there's Holocaust questions that come up every year. I knew damn well that we didn't fight WW2 stop the Holocaust. But yet everyone feels to confident in singing out, "Never again!" But why were we so confident that we'd step in, when every time before, we turned a blind eye? The politics of the whole situation is crazy. Even this book got some angry press because the author makes what seems like the obvious comparisons to the Holocaust. I actually read an article that wanted to clarify that there were 2 kinds of genocide: ideological and retributive. And I realized something important about myself, I just can't intellectualize this stuff. It is all awful to me, and I don't see any point in playing the Opression Olympics, whereby human tragedies are ranked and compared in order and significance. Rwanda, the Holocaust, American Slavery, the removal of the American Indians, Apartheid. All of it is AWFUL and TERRIBLE and there's no need to compare them, or say one was worse than the others, or that some were not as bad. It was all bad. We're not good people. I get it.

"Never before in modern memory had a people who slaughtered another people, or in whose name the slaughter was carried out, been expected to live with the remainder of the people that was slaughtered, completely intermingled, in the same tiny communities, as one cohesive national society" (302) 
Hard to imagine this, right? Just go back and live with the people that destroyed your homes and killed your families. 

"After the genocide, [a survivor] said, 'I had to find my own clothes alone, and I had to find my food alone, and now these people return and are given food and humanitarian aid.' It was true; while the international community had spent more than a billion dollars in the camps, devastated Rwanda had gone begging for a few hundred million, and the tens of thousands of survivors, squatting in the ruins, had been systematically ignored" (315).
Obviously, I've got a do-gooder's heart with the Teach For America and everything. But I doubt I'll ever give another penny to an international aid organization again after reading this book. The Hutu Power played the entire international aid community for a bunch of dupes, and we fell for it hook line and sinker.

I don't know what else to say. I might need to subsist on a steady diet of romance novels for a few weeks. And thank God I have the luxury of saying that rather than living through it. I don't mean to sound ungrateful.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kelly's Book 4.12: Olive Kitteridge

Dear Jenny,

As you know, my life is insane right now. (Cross country move? Why the heck not?!) I just realized that I never posted my April book choice. I saw your suggestion to burn through Nox, but it was already packed. Sooo... eBook it is! Of my few eBooks on the TBR, Olive Kitteridge was the shortest. Done.

I've been doing pretty well, considering -- mostly reading in the few minutes before I pass out at night, and catching a few pages while scarfing down food, waiting in lines, etc.

Plus, I have a long flight this Saturday (did someone say something about moving?) so I should be able to knock it out then. Whew.

The TBP has certainly suffered this month, though... not much time for perusing. ;)


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Jenny's Book 4.12: We Wish to Inform You...


After Charlie Wilson's War, I sort of want to tackle my pair of Vietnam books, but they are both quite long, and so I want to try to hold off for summer. Instead, I decided on another non-fiction title, already throwing my fiction/non-fiction plan out of whack. I suppose it's better to read more non-fiction and save myself some novels, though!

I decided to go with this depressing book by Philip Gourevitch called We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families. It's about the genocide in Rwanda. I actually bought this book used, and I did it around this time of year back in 2008. (Thank you Amazon, for telling me when I purchased things right on the tops of your pages.) It's because at this time every year, I teach a unit on Africa. And although I don't teach this story specifically, I do usually want to add to my general knowledge of the continent and its history. Basically, this is the time of year it makes the most sense to read it, and if I don't do it now, I'm afraid it will wait another year.

In other book reading news, I'm supposed to be reading Jane Eyre for my bookclub. I'm just finding it stultifying and humorless. Bah. I hate the Victorians. I've read about 1/3 of it is my guess, and I think I'm done with it. I just have too many things I really want to read, so why waste time on that? Maybe I'll skip forward and read the end. Meanwhile, I posted the following as my Facebook status the other day: "Newsflash: Jane Eyre is boring." and I got 40 very funny responses. You should check into the Jenny channel and read it. It's hilarious. The best comment came from my friend Jean, who's just highly quotable in general. She gave the most succinct movie review ever by once saying, "I just saw I am Number Four. It was number two." Hee! About Jane Eyre she said, "It's just so ludicrous. Listen lady, you've been acting crazy. Your ass is living in the attic now. What could go wrong with this plan? Just in case, I'll leave you with an alcoholic nurse and some matches." Love. It.

 Also, next month, new Sookie Stackhouse! Exciting.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Completed: Starvation Lake

Dear Jenny,

I originally bought this book for Bill because it seems to focus on hockey and, as you know, he likes hockey (Yes, yes. Understatement there.) Even though I don't read a lot of mysteries, I thought that I might also be interested in it, so when I made the TBR pile, I slapped this one on there.

It was a fine read. Nothing too earth shattering, but pretty enjoyable. I liked the writing and I especially liked the near-constant hockey references. There were several times that a normal phrase was turned on its head to be more hockey-ish. For instance, rather than saying a guy was "dumber than a bag of hammers," the author writes that he's "dumber than a bag of hockey pucks" [175]. Ha! I might have to start saying that, actually.

And there was one particular passage about what we call "glove hand" in our house that really rang true:
Little Wilf turned the palm to his face and inhaled deeply. "Ahhhhh," he said. "Hockey." Nothing smells worse than the inside of a an old sweat-drenched hockey glove, except a hand that just came out of one. And nothing smells more like hockey. [99]
Not having played hockey my entire life, I don't fully appreciate the smell of "glove hand" and the memories it brings back. But I've seen my husband's face when he catches a whiff of glove hand and I know that clearly, for a person who's whole life has been hockey, nothing smells more like hockey. (Also, nothing smells worse. It's really atrocious.)

As for the plot, I'm not usually one to see what's coming, I must admit. For the most part, I don't even try. I'm a reader who just waits to see what happens. Back when you were talking about Swamplandia!, you were saying that you saw the rape coming, and you were cringing, hoping that it would not be true. As I was reading this book, I thought I saw something coming, hoped I would not be correct, and... I was.

There was a bit of a twist, but the most obvious explanation for the "missing year" up where the town's beloved coach used to live? Give it about three seconds. Hrm. Coach of young boys... unexplained year-long gap in his career history.... hrmmm. Of course it's pedophilia. I wonder what else it could have been, because my immediate thought was that and that, of course, was what it was. I was hoping for something less predictable (He joined the circus! He was a juror! He stopped coaching for one year to participate in Dancing with the Stars! Anything, really.) But nope.

I just read through some of the reviews on Amazon. Most of the one stars were because people didn't like all of the hockey talk which, of course, was what I really liked (meanwhile, there's a damned goalie on the front cover, people -- what were you expecting?!) but the word "predictable" also comes up a lot. I hate to say this, but it must be predictable if I was able to see it coming.

Despite the predictability, I liked the characters, the town, and all of the hockey references. I found myself looking forward to picking it up again, so it was certainly enjoyable. It might have been a bit long (there were some sub-plots that didn't seem necessary to me) but it didn't drag. And there's a bit of a surprise at the very end, after all.

April's selection is going to have to be an eBook to keep up with me, as I am not going to have much time to read for the next few weeks. What are you reading?