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A BOOK REVIEW

“Left to Tell” Is Too Real Not To Be Told

By Arelya J. Mitchell

This book was haunting me. Literally – well in a quirky sort of way—like in those scenes from A&E’s “The Haunted” series. The book is “Left to Tell” by Immaculee Ilibagiza, and its subtitle of “Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust” is apropos. The whole truth and nothing but the  truth  is that I  received “Left Behind” from the publisher for review shortly after it was released in 2006 and it took nearly a half dozen years later for the haunting to begin. Of course, the good thing about books is that they never go out of style. Look at the Bible or “To Kill a Mockingbird”. It took me nearly six years later along with an ample dosage of haunting because I just did not want to read anything about genocide. I wasn’t in the mindset, mood, or any other precarious flinching of human emotion that could fling me in a state of depression, but to my surprise “Left to Tell” did not do this. Whoever would have thought a recount of one woman’s ordeal during the 1994 Rwandan genocide would end up as a book of faith and encouragement? Dare I say that even an atheist could find the human ‘spirit’ in this page-turner? Before I could even finish it, I was highly recommending it to friends, colleagues, and semi-enemies.

Even with an inspiring foreword by Dr. Wayne Dyer (which incidentally I did not read until after I had finished the book), I still did not want to read it. I relegated “Left to Tell” to my must- read- later-sometime- in- life stack. I cringed each time I saw the word ‘genocide’ when I would intermittently sift through the stack. Later came, and as I began to move some books, it fell to the floor. I put it back. I moved the stack again, and it fell to the floor. I put it back. It fell to the floor. Long story short, it ended up in yet another stack (Are you humming the ‘Twilight Zone’ theme here?). Long story short: For a week, this book kept either dropping to floor or showing up in another stack.  I finally gave in, and how glad that I did.

 In the midst of tragedy, Immaculee Ilibagiza was ‘left to tell’-- to be an eyewitness to yet another act of man’s inhumanity to man. As stated, I did not read Dyer’s foreword until I had finished. It was then I captured a moving quote on the opposite page from Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, a Jewish World War II Holocaust survivor: “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Immaculee Ilibagiza tells her story with such passion and grace that the reader can empathize as much as one can who has not actually gone through a genocidal attack.

 

 Call it fate, call it a haunting, call it Divine Intervention, but reading “Left to Tell” became a testament of what the human spirit can endure. What also led me to read it was my own shame that if anyone could endure the nightmare of surviving genocide then surely I could endure the nightmare of ‘reading about it’.

 Yes, the monstrous massacre of millions of Rwandans is related, and this one woman’s journey of survival is a universal one of those who did. From the onset, Immaculee makes it clear to the reader that this is her story—one woman’s story—and that it is not meant to be a historical or political account of events. Yet, in earnest it could be that, too.

Dr. Dyer expressed my own feelings in his foreword: “I’ve read thousands of books over the past 50 or so years. The book you hold in your hands is by far the most moving and poignantly significant of the vast library that comprises my lifetime of personal reading.”

Immaculee Ilibagiza, a member of the Tutsi tribe, went from being a carefree college student to being prey hunted by rival tribe, Hutu. For 91 days, she and seven other young women hid in a cramped bathroom of a pastor who put his and his own family’s lives in jeopardy to save theirs. But with so much mistrust and fear even he could not chance telling family members or servants what ‘crime’ he was committing by hiding what the Hutu referred to as “cockroaches”.

“I heard the killers call my name,” Immaculee writes. “They were on the other side of the wall, and less than an inch of plaster and wood separated us. Their voices were cold, hard, and determined. ‘She’s here…we know she’s here somewhere…Find her—find Immaculee’. There were many voices, many killers. I could see them in my mind: my former friends and neighbors, who had always greeted me with love and kindness, moving through the house carrying spears and machetes and calling my name. ‘I have killed 399 cockroaches,’ said one of the killers. ‘Immaculee will make 400. It’s a good number to kill’.”

            This sets the tone and the coldhearted reality of Immaculee’s survival, and as you turn each page, you ‘feel’ how each second of horror is triumphed with hope and you realize how this book of pain is gradually transforming into a book of faith.

 

 Like many, I   think of war as being mankind’s ultimate inhumanity to man; yet, I view genocide as worse than war. In war, soldiers have a chance; the playing field or rather battlefield is more or less even, in spite of civilians getting caught up as collateral damage.

But genocide is slaughter.

      Those who are slaughtered or dragged off to be slaughtered have no chance or means to fight back. The attack is usually with little or no warning. The attack can come from persons you never thought in a hundred years would be caught up in what can only be described as a joy in slaughtering. And for those who do not survive the mass brutality, they are simply thrown into mass graves or left to rot where they once breathed.

Immaculee Ilibagiza describes this initial state of disbelief when addressing her father who believed that the RPF soldiers would rescue them before things got out of hand. She writes: “‘Daddy, what are you thinking?...The RPF soldiers are up north near the Ugandan border…’ I could count the number of times I’d contradicted my father on one hand, but everything was changing… At dawn, the screaming began. Two-dozen Interahamwe militiamen attacked our village, tossing grenades into houses. When families inside tried to escape, they were hacked to death with machetes…”

Genocide is the purest form of hatred; it is the purest form of hating a living person because he or she is.   

I shall go no further in this review, except to stress again that “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust” by Immaculee Ilibagiza with Steve Erwin (Publisher: Hay House) is a book of faith and a testament of the human spirit to overcome. It is a gift.

 

 

 

 

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