Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-viii

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Preface: Postgenocide Rwanda

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pp. ix-xx

One almost feels like opening with an apology for the very existence of this work. The process of writing itself was somewhat grueling, repeatedly deferred over weeks and even months. Were it not for the moral duty owed to various Rwandan and African friends, these words may not have risen to the surface quite as expeditiously as they did following two trips to the Land of a Thousand Hills.
Nonetheless, when it comes to my own modest personal journey, bereft of any political activism, no human experience has thus far proved as challenging, urgent, or demanding. This explains my fervent desire to simply vanish, to be forgotten, to refrain from adding to the general pessimism, for it to be my turn to play dead. This book makes no claim to explain anything whatsoever, and the leading role is given to fiction....

Acknowledgments

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pp. xxi-xxiv

FICTIONS

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pp. 1-2

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Terminus

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pp. 3-15

Until very recently, when they were replaced by various synthetic materials, violin strings were traditionally made from animal tendons, called gut strings, usually from a cow or a horse. The harmonious and the sublime, it would therefore seem, can be extracted from pain and suffering. Does the same hold true for the Achilles tendons of Tutsis, so hideously severed from living beings shortly before they were massacred? Might they be susceptible to producing tropical symphonies as a tribute to close relatives or folks from here and elsewhere, to the various family clans living up in the hills, to the loamy soil coating the fertile terraced hillsides, to the rain, the lush vegetation, and the...

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The Cavalcade

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pp. 16-21

Just imagine what our green and unspoiled hills looked like in the early days of creation, long before the filthy cattle arrived, long before the meager lyrical song of the crossbow, the long-legged women with their high headdresses descended in small groups from the barren and incandescent Abyssinian plateaus. Even then they carried with them the diseases of the dry lands. Imagine, brothers of the hoe, the look of terror and bewilderment in the eyes of these brave farmers when the cavalcade of hordes appeared, the warriors leading the way, women and clusters of children following the herd. A torrential stream, an impetuous current, a genuine deluge as in the story of Noah’s Ark. Without place, gods, or fire, the nomads ransacked, killed, scorched the earth and the people on their way through. The...

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And the Dogs Feasted

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pp. 22-26

Plump stray dogs with fat neck rolls have been feasting on dead bodies for weeks now. It’s best to stay away from them, which is easier said than done when you can barely take more than a few steps without stumbling given the poor state of your Achilles’ tendons that somehow miraculously didn’t rupture under the blows of machetes.
Teats bursting, following the trail, the bitches have nothing of their former canine grace. Carrying diseases, rummaging through the forest, body snatchers, fighting over remains with other scavengers. Packs roaming from one site of carnage to another, between wells, from one marsh to the next. Columns of mad dogs blocking the hilltops right at daybreak, with shadowy and bloody muzzles. Voracious. Coyotes, guard dogs, the Lycaon pictus, jackals, all wretched depopulators of the same ilk....

STORIES

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pp. 27-28

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No, Kigali Is Not Sad

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pp. 29-32

July 1998. Kigali. As a native of Djibouti and the arid lowlands of the Horn of Africa overlooked by the Ethiopian highlands, paradise for me has always been enveloped in the kind of luxuriant greenery found on Mount Kigali, which ended up, moreover, being the last bastion during the battle of that name; the aim had been to capture the large town named as the new capital by the grace of rural exodus. Only recently, in the mid-seventies, at the height of the social revolution, did it acquire, thanks to foreign aid, the minimum of decorum expected of political capitals. However, the southern university city of Butare (formerly named Astrid in honor of a Belgian queen), rather sleepy these days, has always harbored an unhealthy jealousy toward Kigali....

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Return to Kigali

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pp. 33-41

On this nineteenth day of July 1999, I’m getting ready for a twenty-four-hour journey, Paris–Brussels–Nairobi–Kigali. The Sabena Airlines flight to Brussels is stormed by a group of thirty or so Guinean migrants, with bulky baggage and a horde of kids within easy reach. African immigrant families in Europe are recognizable from a distance, in every airport, because of the way they huddle around the check-in counter, by the way they are berated by the airline employees, and in their polite silence in the face of the insults they are subjected to. At times they can be overly eager in the way in which they follow instructions, the heads of households calling their spouses, offspring, cousins, and any other travel companions to order....

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Bujumbura Beach

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pp. 42-48

I’m staring at the driver’s neck in the taxi taking me from the airport to the center of Bujumbura. You can’t really avoid looking at it at some point during the ride, especially when you’re sitting in the backseat right behind him. Suddenly I notice two slashes, the one horizontal at the nape of the neck and the other vertical, running down the side of his skull. My senses are aroused before I have even set foot in the capital.
Although this is my first time in this airport, there’s something familiar about it. I’ve felt like this on numerous occasions previously when arriving in the airport of an African capital I’m about to discover. Similar fragrances mixed in with the warm air and dust, the same indolent welcome at customs, and sometimes even the tropical architecture intermingled with...

Afterword

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pp. 49-50

Note on Translations

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pp. 51-52

Notes

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pp. 53-55