Wednesday, February 24, 2016

An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina

Ok, some of you may have watched the movie Hotel Rwanda. I did, and I cried bucketloads. If you haven't, then you should. Anyway, An Ordinary Man is the autobiography of the man whom the movie is based on. Paul Rusesabagina was the hotel manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines during the Rwanda Genocide who saved 1268 Tutsi and moderate Hutu people.

Or as he put it, 4 hours worth of lives out of a hundred days.

In his autobiography, Mr. Rusesabagina talks about how the genocide started, and what he did in order to keep his hotel running and protect the refugees. He had to make nice with some very bad people, but he did what he had to do, and he saved many lives.

To him, that's the normal thing to do. I say the guy's a hero for holding on to his humanity in such terrible days.

In fact, I basically had tears pricking the back of my eyes as I was reading this book, especially towards the end. If I wasn't in public, I probably would have cried.

What struck me the most was his reasons for why the genocide started. According to him, the division between the Hutu and the Tutsis were imposed by the colonial powers as a divide and conquer rule. And the reason why it worked so well was because it appealed to one basic aspect of people's nature:

There is something living deep within us all that welcomes, even relishes, the role of victimhood for ourselves. There is no cause in the world more righteously embraced than our own when we feel someone has wronged us.

I think that is very true. If we're the victim, it's easy enough to want to do something to stand-up for ourselves, and to translate thoughts into actions. Conversely, if someone else is the victim, it's much easier to stand by. Call it the by-stander effect, if you will.

And the way nations just stood by while the genocide happened is just chilling. Mostly because it could so easily happen today. For example, ASEANS non-interference principle, which I happen to support in most circumstances, could be used to engineer conditions for yet another genocide. It hasn't happened yet, but looking at things like the Rohingya crisis scares me into think that it's totally possible.

All in all, this is a powerful story, simply told. The author doesn't bother dressing the story up in fancy language, probably because he doesn't have to. The narrative itself is a powerful message for all of us, and because it's told so simply, its power is amplified.

This is a book everyone should read.

Note: A version of this review first appeared on my Dayre


  1. I should read this. Hotel Rwanda was such an heartbreaking movie. I agree with your comments about how easily this could happen today. It makes me sad and angry that we can't learn from our pasts. Great review!

    1. Thanks! You should definitely read the book - in some ways, it's even more heartbreaking than the movie, because it's all true.


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