Following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, which claimed the lives of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, Jean Hatzfeld visited Rwanda and spoke to the survivors of the atrocities. Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide - The Survivors Speak is a harrowing read which tells in the survivors’ own words the horrors of the genocide including surviving massacres in churches, hiding under dead bodies, or spending days hiding in swamps as their former friends and neighbours scoured the area with machetes seeking to kill them.
In A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak, Hatzfeld returns to Rwanda and this time he speaks to the perpetrators of the genocide: ten men who are serving time in a prison for their part in the genocide. As a prolific reader of books relating to the Rwandan genocide, my expectations on picking up this book were quite specific. What the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide did was unthinkable; it defied words and stretched the bounds of the human imagination.
I hoped to gain some insight into what the killers had been thinking, what had motivated them, and how they justified their own actions. I expected to read that the men had been caught up in the frenzy and organisation of the time and that they were somewhat horrified by their actions today. I expected the passage of time and life in prison to have inspired a remorseful attitude and an appreciation of the human cost and loss of life resulting from their actions. I was disappointed.
There is no doubt that this is an excellent book, and I have no hesitation giving it five stars and recommending that people read it. Hatzfeld’s brave and tireless enquiry has given us an extremely rare insight into the mind of a genocidal killer. The questions that he asks, the commentary, and background information that he provides - and the process he undergoes to gain the killers’ trust - provides an invaluable resource that we simply have not had with other genocides. In the end though, it seems that my expectation of remorse and reconciliation was beyond naive.