“Today, we are drawing death” – Book review

I was wondering if I should write here about this book in the first place. After all, what’s the point of creating an article for an international audience about a book which (at least for now) is available only in Polish? And of course, I could use some cheap excuse like “hey, this will be surely released in English one day. After all, Tochman’s books (“Like Eating a Stone”) are already getting translated.” But that would be a lie. Sometimes you just need to write about a book to help yourself to deal with all the feelings that it gave you.

“Dzisiaj Narysujemy Śmierć’ (Today we are drawing death) is a reportage about genocide in Rwanda written by the well-known Polish reporter; Wojciech Tochman. The story is told from the perspective of survivors, and it’s told 20 years later. Tochman presents not only the stories from the times of slaughter but is also focused on how it is even possible for a human being to exist after living through this horror…

Rwandan Tribunal Charges Ex-military Officer Over Genocide

And as you can expect, it’s not an easy thing to read. I think itwouldn’t be a lie to call it the most difficult piece of literature I have ever had in my hands. Tochman doesn’t escape from showing the pure cruelness of those events – he does not avoid detailed descriptions of decapitations or burning people alive. He does not escape rapes, does not try to justify hate, does not try to marginalize trauma. No. He just describes what happened. The author is telling a story, and he does it with as little emotional message, as possible. Surely, he shows amazing level of compassion, and he clearly condemns massacre carried out by Hutu, but he keeps his vocabulary as simple as possible, leaving the recipient with the facts and images to think about. The effect is unbelievable – you can literally feel that those pages are written in blood and filled with death, pain and fear. Lack of clear emotional attitude from the author wakes emotions in the reader – and those emotions are as extreme as the story itself. It took me less than one chapter to start feeling ashamed to be a human being.

Of course, there is much more than just describing the genocide. Tochman tries to explain how such a level of hate was created, as well as show how little was actually needed for people to start killing each other. It’s horrifying, that this reportage has proven how easy it is to start hate and how simple feeling it is. It’s horrifying how many of the “modern myths’ were verified by what has happened in Rwanda. United Nations, which was supposed to guard the peace and order of the world, did nothing. Catholic Church, which was supposed to be a moral compass in the dark times, once again allied with the attackers not victims. Hutu tribe showed us all that events like Holocaust were not an accident and they can be replicated easily.

What is the point of recommending this book then? Why I think that everyone should read a detailed reportage which is such a nightmare fuel (I’ve read this book much longer than any other, as sometimes I just had to take a break for it. Sometimes for an hours, sometimes for a month). First of all- I had this irrational feeling that it gives at least a bit of justice – those people were brutally murdered, most of their names were erased from the registers and Hutu tried to remove them from history. I just couldn’t help a feeling, that knowing this part of history is the only thing we can do. Memory as a form of rebellion.

But the main reason is a wider picture it leads to. There aren’t many examples of what blind hate can awake in people. And Tochman shows that simple mechanisms were enough. In times of rising prejudice in countries like Poland or Hungary it’s essential to know the potential consequences and to fight against it. Yes, I know, it sounds like a cliche, but the fact that there are still nationalists’ movement in a modern world shows that examples like Rwanda need to be remembered as a warning. And one reportage speaks louder than thousands of theories. We need to be aware and conscious to break the circle of violence before it truly starts. I don’t want to end with any statement like “after all, we may wake up like Tutsi one day”. The more important thing is to remember that in a world without unnecessary hate, we won’t wake up as Hutu one day.

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