- Writing and Filming the Genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda
Alexandre Dauge-Roth's thought-provoking and comprehensive book examines the ethical dimensions of remembering the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda. The book analyzes the narrative techniques of various authors and filmmakers as they position themselves in a web of competing discourses that claim to represent the truth of Rwanda's genocidal violence. For Dauge-Roth, speaking simply of a duty to remember, without any accompanying ethical imperative for action within the present, risks denying the truth that no country is immune to genocide.
The book's first section, "The Testimonial Encounter," is devoted to Rwanda94, a theatrical performance by the Belgian collective Groupov. Dauge-Roth demonstrates how, in forsaking a linear narrative and incorporating the voices of victims into the play, Rwanda94 creates a space in the present that grants social recognition to previously silenced voices of the genocide. According to Dauge-Roth, Rwanda94 calls on us to overcome our fear of hearing the victims speak of their suffering. Instead, we must act as 'hosts' for the victims and survivors, inviting them into a shared social space in which both witness and listener are willing to be transformed by their testimonial encounter.
In the second section, Dauge-Roth analyzes three books from the literary project "Rwanda: Writing as a Duty to Remember". Most striking is his description of Koulsy Lamko's novel The Butterfly of the Hills in which a deceased victim of the genocide is transformed into a butterfly who speaks directly to the reader. This disturbing and provocative narration forces the reader to engage directly with the brutal suffering of the genocide's victims. Dauge-Roth also shows how the use of polyphony constitutes a "dismembering" of history that shows the limits of our knowledge of the genocide, as well as our own complicity in the events in Rwanda. [End Page 119]
The book's final section, "Screening Memory and (Un)Framing Forgetting: Filming Genocide in Rwanda," examines whether or not several films about the genocide could contribute to genocide denial. Dauge-Roth convincingly shows how in claiming historical legitimacy, films such as Hotel Rwanda obscure the very voices of the victims whose story they claim to tell. Certain films, however, such as Raul Peck's Sometimes in April, by not claiming to be mimetic and by providing a historical context that is not in service of a specific narrative, seek to make viewers understand that they are heirs to the genocide and thus can no longer claim innocence or ignorance.
The book's epilogue, "On Turning the Page" addresses present-day Rwanda, where the gacaca courts have created a literal social space in which survivors can gain some degree of social recognition. Dauge-Roth expresses concern, however, that current Rwandan government policy may disenfranchise survivors in the name of political expediency.
Ultimately, Dauge-Roth's book presents our engagement with genocide's legacy as a moral imperative with consequences for both present-day Rwandan society and our own. We are asked to be "acting readers and interlocutors," attentive both to the suffering caused by the genocide, and to "our own responsibilities within our respective communities and societies" (269).