Cover image for Speak Rwanda
Speak Rwanda
Pierce, Julian R.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Picador USA, 1999.
Physical Description:
292 pages ; 22 cm
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"Speak Rwanda" is the powerful story of ten people -- Hutu and Tutsi, civilians and soldiers, mothers, politicians, and orphaned children -- as they attempt to survive one of the most disturbing massacres since the Second World War. Through their individual voices we come to fully understand the moving and complex truths that existed behind our newspaper headlines.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Since 1994, several books of nonfiction, and now Pierce's debut novel, have tried to comprehend how an estimated one million Tutsi men, women and children came to be slaughtered by their Hutu neighbors in a chilling episode of modern genocide. Pierce, who has worked and traveled in Africa, divides his unbiased novel into the short internal narratives of 10 different figures from all sides of the conflictÄTutsis and Hutus, murderers and victims, refugees and good SamaritansÄwhose lives are threaded together by chance and violence. Characters include Silas Bagambiki, a local Hutu petty official who sees slaughter as a way to consolidate power; Augustin Makizimana, a foolish young Hutu who is drawn quickly and unthinkingly into committing atrocities; and Innocent Karangwa, a Tutsi boy who escapes Bagambiki's militia only to become an opportunistic war urchin in Rwanda's capital of Kigali. In the midst of this graphically violent history, a few characters are able to preserve their moral centers, among them Hutu nurse Agn‚s Mujawanaliya and the Tutsi Uganda-born guerrilla Capt. Stephen Mazimpaka, who, by falling in love with each other at the book's end, serve as an example of Rwanda's best hopes. Despite Pierce's painstaking depiction of small-scale politics and his plain-spoken and informative incorporation of local color, the flatness of his prose and the identical, unnuanced voices of the characters make it difficult for this well-intentioned novel to match up to such works of nonfiction as Philip Gourevitch's We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This heart-wrenching and exceptional first collection of linked stories powerfully captures the horror of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and gives an all-too-human face to the headlines. Ten charactersÄmen, women, and children, Hutus and Tutsis, victims and murderersÄtell their individual stories. From the first massacres and flight to refugee camps to a tentative peace and the struggle to return home, each witnesses the madness, sorrow, and faint hope of a nation drowning in centuries-old hate. Pierce's graphic accounts of atrocities are harrowing, as are his descriptions of life in camps filled with disease and starvation. He gives each character, even the despicable ones, a depth and uniqueness that balance the terror, creating a universal story of tragedy and survival. While recent events will spark interest, the strong story, involving characters, and good writing make this a novel that will last. Recommended for all libraries.ÄEllen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A work of fiction, Pierce's book explores some of the causes of the acts of genocide in Rwanda in 1994. An American who spent time in Rwanda, Pierce uses a number of first-person narrators to re-create events that led up to the violence carried out by the majority Hutus against the Tutsis. The narrators represent a cross-section of Rwanda society, both Hutu and Tutsi, including a small-town politician, a nurse, a herdsman, an orphaned child, a refugee, a worker, and a soldier. In each case the reader witnesses the distrust caused by decades of antagonism between the two groups, and how unscrupulous political leaders exploited this distrust by pitting Hutu against both Tutsi and other Hutu who favored tolerance. Several of the narratives contain scenes of graphic violence, but a few also offer hope (for example, in one narrative a Hutu nurse helps save a young Tutsi boy; in another a Tutsi officer leaves the army to work with Hutu refugees). Though Pierce's characters frequently seem more symbolic than real and the plots often lack cohesion, the book does offer some insights into the discontent and unrest that led otherwise ordinary people to commit unspeakable atrocities. For academic collections supporting studies of Africa in history or literature. C. Pike; University of Minnesota