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The Strategy of Antelopes, By Jean Hatfeld
Sunday 29 March 2009
In the marshes – vast stretches of slime and papyrus – human beings hacked each other to death. Those who survived still live with the hellish memories of the Rwandan genocide, and those memories are the subject of this latest harrowing book by the journalist Jean Hatzfeld, a winner of the Prix Médicis in France. His two previous volumes were Into the Quick of Life, which documented the experience of Tutsi witnesses who had survived the genocide, and A Time for Machetes, which exposed the mindset of the Hutu killers.
What does a killer say when encountering a survivor? What does a survivor say to the person who murdered their sister? These are the issues raised in The Strategy of Antelopes, which has been excellently translated by Linda Coverdale. Hatzfeld returns to speak to Hutu killers who have now been released from prison or exile, and those Tutsis who must try to live peaceably with them as neighbours. There is, for example, the plight of Claudine, who cannot bear to face the murderer of her family and instead seeks a home elsewhere.
"Mutism", the reluctance to speak about the experience afterwards, is a distinguishing feature of genocide, argues Hatzfeld. But here he probes the silence, and the answers to his questions, captured in swathes of quotation, retain the original voices. There are accounts from murderers about the causes of their crimes. One man, for example, reveals how he ceased viewing the Tutsis as human and thus was able to slay them.
Hatzfeld tackles the hardest questions of justice and reparations; of why some are broken or fall into despair while others are able to find anew some peace of mind and pleasure in life. Ever haunting the narrative are those dead who are no longer able to answer questions at all.
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