book review: Left to Tell

Alrighty.  It’s time for yet another book review. 

This time I read the book Left to Tell:  Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.  The author’s name is Immaculee Ilibagiza.

Basic Outline:

Immaculee grew up in Rwanda, and loved her country.  As a child she and her brothers were sheltered from the concepts of racism and the differences between tribes (Hutu and Tutsi).  Her first exposure to all of this came in school when the children were subjected to weekly “race roll calls” (and people, this is in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s!  Sounds a whole lot like what happened in Europe not 50 years earlier!)  When told to stand when her tribe was called, she didn’t; she didn’t know what tribe she was a part of!  The next week (after a visit by her father to the teacher… who, FYI, turns out to be a vicious Hutu extremist)  she learns to stand when “Tutsi” is called.  The innocence of this revelation is portrayed this way:

“I smiled as I walked back to my seat, thinking,  ‘So I’m a Tutsi.  Good!’  I had no idea what a Tutsi was, but I was proud to be one anyway.  There were so few of us in class that I figured we had to be special — besides, the name sounded cute and was fun to say.  But I still couldn’t see any real difference between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes.”

Immaculee’s story is about her life, what it was like growing up, and then what happened to her during the Rwandan genocide that killed over an estimated one million Tutsi people in under 100 days.   It tells of her hiding experience, learning to really trust and commune with God during that time, and the rebuilding/healing experience after the genocide was over.

What shocked me the most:

Ummm, several things.  First of all, I vaguely remember hearing about all of this going on, but to be honest, I didn’t take much notice of it.  I was 14 at the time, and a slightly oblivious to anything except myself (and the cute boy I had a crush on…).  But I wasn’t the only one, and at least I had age as a semi-excuse.  The realization that this genocide was happening so soon after the “power nations” vowed to never let another holocaust-type occurance shocked me.  And they didn’t do anything!  They pulled out the peace-keeping troops and left the Tutsi’s to fend for themselves!  Which, was pretty much impossible seeing as how the government itself was radio broadcasting to all Hutu people that the Tutsis were “snakes and cockroaches” and needed to be “fumigated and exterminated”.  The Hutu government even went so far as to pass out machetes and guns to common citizens to better provide them with a way to kill any Tutsi they came across.  Wow. 

Of course, the blatant violence shocked me.  The fact that neighbors believed the lies told to them by the government and acted on those lies by hacking their friends to death with machetes… just because they were a different tribe…. shocking.  ** It did make me think about how easy it is to fall into the trap of believing what government officials say without questioning them.  Always question!  99% of them are no smarter than you are, don’t believe otherwise! **  There is story after story of what happened in the massive killing spree that took the lives of so many innocent Rwandans, including Immaculee’s father, mother, and two brothers.  She survived, as did her oldest brother.  She survived because of the kindness of a moderate Hutu, her brother survived only because he was out of the country studying when the genocide occurred.

What I got out of it:

1.  The power of her faith in God, and the miracles that He acted to save her and the other women hiding in the bathroom for 91 days.  One of my favorite quotes:

”  I was certain that God had a greater purpose for me, and I prayed every day for Him to reveal it to me.  At first I was expecting Him to show me my entire future all at once — maybe with a flash of lightning and  clap of thunder thrown in for good measure.  But I came to learn that God never shows us something we aren’t ready to understand.  Instead, He lets us see what we need to see, when we need to see it.  He’ll wait until our eyes and hearts are open to Him, and then when we’re ready, He will plant our feet on the path that’s best for us… but it’s up to us to do the walking.” (emphasis mine)

I love this because not only is it written during one of the most uncomfortable, wretched times in her life, but also because it’s just so true!  I am completely guilty of wanting to know the whole plan for my life “right now”, and this re-opened my eyes to the truth that if I saw my whole life right now, or even a bit into the future to have some questions answered… I’d probably freak out, or not believe it at all.  I’m not ready for it.  What I am ready for is now.

2.  I also realized that even though I had the “sheltered child” excuse when this happened, there are many other things that happen around the world that I choose to shelter myself from now.  Honestly, I don’t want to know sometimes.  I don’t know if it’s because I feel helpless, or because I’ll feel compelled to help, or maybe both.  That was a wake-up call for me.  I need to know what’s going on beyond the limits of my house/town/state/country.

And, that’s it.

I know it’s not a super “professional” book review… just my thoughts.  I really did love this book.  I’ve read it twice in one week.  I would highly recommend it, although not to younger readers due to the graphic descriptions of genocide. 

If you’re feeling like no one understands you;  read this book. 

If you’re feeling like you’re life is soooo hard;  read this book. 

If you’re feeling like God doesn’t actually care about anyone;  read this book. 

I promise it will change you.


2 Comments on “book review: Left to Tell”

  1. Thanks for the review! I’m adding this on my “want to read” list. Have you seen “Hotel Rwanda”? It’s a great movie…

  2. Yay! I think you’ll like it. I forgot to mention in the ‘review’ the part I did not enjoy so much, which was the “believe and receive” philosophy. I know that we need to believe, but I also think that God doesn’t necessarily change what He’s going to give us based on our level of “thinking to it be so”, you know? So, that’s that.
    I have not seen Hotel Rwanda. I may check it out sometime this summer.

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