We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch

1998. Farrar Straus and Giroux. Hardcover.356 pages.

From: the public library

In a nutshell:

A year after the 1995 Rwandan genocide, the author of this book, Philip Gourevitch, visited Rwanda. We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families is the result of many visits, extensive interviews and research. In the introduction to the book, Gourevitch writes: “I wanted to know how Rwandans understood what had happened in their country, and how they were getting on in the aftermath.”


I might as well cut to the chase: We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families is a brilliant book. It can be a harrowing read, but don’t let that put you off. Gourevitch’s writing skillfully pulled me into its difficult and complicated subject matter.

What I knew about the Rwandan genocide before reading this book was mostly gleaned from two films about that time: Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April.  They were both good films but could only cover so much, given the medium. Gourevitch’s book delved deeper. The book examines the history of Rwanda (and where pertinent, neighboring countries) and how that history built up to 1994’s horrific wholesale slaughter. The author’s interviews with survivors provide chilling descriptions of that unrelenting slaughter. The inaction of the international community is detailed.

However the most incredible section of the book – for me – may have been Gourevitch’s description and contemplation on post-genocide Rwanda. First of all, I knew very little about the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the military force funded and populated by Rwandan expatriates. (As I understand it, these expats were mostly Tutsis or other Rwandans who had left due to the deteriorating situation within Rwanda). I knew that the RPF’s push through Rwanda was the primary reason why the April 1994 genocide stopped. But I knew nothing about the immediate aftermath: how most of the Hutus fled from the RPF into other countries; how the genocide-mongering Hutu Power members regrouped in refugee camps, and how the new Rwandan government started its struggle to rebuild a country where killers, accomplices, and survivors lived side by side.

We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families did so much more than provide me with information; it is filled with an astonishing level of insight about people and what makes them act in terrible ways. While reading, it seemed clear to me that Gourevitch committed his heart and mind to this story.

There are so many quotes I would like to share, but I will share just two excerpts:

In discussions of us-against-them scenarios of popular violence, the fashion these days is to speak of mass hatred. But while hatred can be animating, it appeals to weakness. The “authors” of the genocide, as Rwandans call them, understood that in order to move a huge number of weak people to do wrong, it is necessary to appeal to their desire for strength – and the gray force that really drives people is power. Hatred and power are both, in their different ways, passions. The difference is that hatred is purely negative, while power is essentially positive: you surrender to hatred, but you aspire to power.

p. 128-129

Gourevitch goes on to describe how Paul Rusesabagina (the hotel manager portrayed by Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda) appealed to the Hutu Power killers’ sense of power, in order to save the people who had fled to the hotel for refuge.

And here is a portion of Gourevitch’s discussion of genocide:

But body counts aren’t the point in a genocide, a crime for which, at the time of my first visit to Rwanda, nobody on earth had ever been brought to trial, much less convicted. What distinguishes genocide from murder, and even from acts of political murder that claim as many victims, is the intent. The crime is wanting to make a people extinct. The idea is the crime. No wonder it’s so difficult to picture.

p. 201-202

The above sentences come near the end of a passage where Gourevitch has wrestled with the astounding number of people who were killed.

As I said, there are more quotes I’d love to share, but when I tried to include them in this post, I realized that there was too much contextual explanation I would need to provide in order for the quotes to fully make sense.

As with Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On about the early years of AIDS in America, Gourevitch’s book made me want to throw things as I read about the inaction of ostensibly beneficent organizational bodies. It’s also a book that made me contemplate some current events at a different angle.

We wish to inform you… is a book I talked about to others as I was reading it, and the family and friends I talked to didn’t shy from the topic at all, and we had some engaged discussions as a result.

Here are some others’ thoughts:

Book Addiction – “Gourevitch is an amazing journalist – the way he brought this time to life for the reader is stunning.  He did a great job mixing politics with stories of genocide survivors – although there is a LOT of politics in this book.”

Maw Books – “What I did learn from reading this book, is that when I read books about atrocities, horrors, genocides and such, my interest lies in the human story.  I’ll give Philip Gourevitch credit, he tried.  But I wanted more.  I guess I prefer memoirs rather than accounts of the political atmosphere . . . I do think that he did an excellent job giving us in depth coverage of the situation and anybody can learn something from reading this story.”


Filed under Non-Fiction

4 responses to “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch

  1. Wonderful review, Christy! This looks like a real wonderful book! It is sad what happened in Rwanda. It is also sad that the international community was quiet when it happened. I will add this book to my ‘TBR’ list.

  2. This is a book that I’ve wanted to read for some time now. I really just need to put a hold on it at my library already 🙂

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