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Book Review: A Sunday At The Pool In Kigali by Gil Courtemanche

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For me, Gil Courtemanche’s A Sunday At The Pool In Kigali bore a great similarity to the screenplay for the film Hotel Rwanda. Having seen the film twice, it is a positive statement about the book to state that I did not make the association until almost two thirds of the way through.

On the other hand, much of the material I did not associate with the film verged on the prurient or scatological. Much of what rose above this level eventually depressed, because it addressed like an obsession the detail, the consequences, and the pathology of AIDS. The doubly unfortunate truth about the last two sentences is that the book probably, in its excesses, under-states the reality.

An enduring memory is a character, a visitor to Rwanda, seeing what he takes to be a cultivated hillside and then praising effusively the presence of agriculture in the centre of town. A moment later he is introduced to reality by his host who confirmed that the excavation was a cemetery to cultivate the profusions of corpses produced by AIDS. The scenes of genocide that follow can only match the horror of what went before.

At the core of the book is the relationship between Valcourt and Gentille. He is Canadian, a journalist film-maker, who seems at home in Rwanda’s tribulations. Gentile is a woman of virtue, a virtue she plies with ease. She looks like a Tutsi, but is a Hutu.

In some ways their relationship mirrors the colonial heritage that at least exacerbated, if perhaps not actually caused the potential for ethnic conflict that eventually ignited so disastrously. But A Sunday At The Pool In Kigali points to social divisions in an apparently valueless community that sees other people, both collectively and individually, merely as the exploitable given form. There’s not a lot of joy here, even in the book’s copious sex that seems, anaesthetised, to dominate much of the text.

But overall there is little to uplift in the book. Almost no-one offers love or compassion. An almost unrelenting torrent of cynicism, abuse, persecution and social degeneration floods from every page. It is a portrait of an almost uncompromisingly ugly and abhorrent experience. A Sunday At The Pool In Kigali is thus an often one-paced, one-dimensional read. The problem, unfortunately, is that it might be accurate.

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