Thursday, December 29, 2011

Left to Tell: A Review with Partial Answers

by Stella Atrium 12/28/11

Did you ever sit with a big question for a good long time? Maybe you found the easy answer, or the glib answer, or the partial answer from an outsider. But the truth about motivation and outcomes still doesn't fit.

petrifiedI have puzzled over the big questions often, a pleasant way to spend the quiet time.  Like, why does the Great Plains have no trees? The soil is deep and fertile, made verdant by centuries of buffalo dung deposits in the gazillions. So why are the Great Plains not called the Great Forest?

I actually found an answer for that question that sits well with me. A forest was burned away when the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs crashed into the Gulf of Mexico off the Yucatan.  There's a petrified forest, in fact, in Arizona with tree trunks that were made into rock by the event. Then the grazing animals, eating all the seedlings, rose in great numbers before the trees could overtake the acreage.

One puzzle piece of my world fits snugly into place.

The cyclic massacres of the Tutzis and Hutus in Rwanda was another big question that came around in quiet moments. How could neighbors who were cousins indulge in widespread massacres every 12-18 years? What was the motivation? What were their explanations for the outcomes?

This is a heavy topic, not light banter for the dinner party. I could just ignore the question of relative motivations. Or I could explore the grievous actions and utilize some underlying truth to provide motivations for characters in my novels. The issue is relevant in many countries just now.

CollapseI read different partial answers that fit the rhetorical stance of the writer or organization more than the participants. I read much later the neo-Malthusian chapter by Jared Diamond in Collapse.  His argument called for more trees and fewer babies, and the relative responsibilities of developed countries.  But the example illustrates his articulated themes, rather than some open-ended investigation of inductive reasoning.

But what about the participants in the Rwandan massacres?  A GoodReads friend suggested that I read Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza in which she describes her experience as a Tutsi hiding in a Hutu's bathroom with six other women. To my surprise, this was a book of Catholicism and the power of faith, except the proofs of faith were thin. 

Immaculee claims a Hutu killer turned away when he saw her face, I suppose like the visage of Moses could bring conviction in the spirit.  She claims that God helped her onto a path of compassion and forgiveness so she could get past urges of revenge. The author was remarkable indeed, but what about the other Rwandans who participated, and will participate again in a decade or so?

LefttoTellThe author claims that her prayers covered her friends so the killers didn't attack the defenseless group while she hurried toward them with French peace-keepers.  Except this scene happened late in the four-month-long massacre when passion was burned out and outside soldiers were armed with guns, not machetes.

I enjoyed the writer's descriptions, and I thanked God more than once for my easy lifestyle. Her statement of faith seemed true but too glossy in print form.  I'm certain Immaculee Ilibagiza is an inspiring motivational speaker, and I admire her work with orphans and raising international awareness through the UN.

One woman's answer for how she survived the nightmare doesn't speak to how we, the human race, can indulge this horror or how we prevent future massacres among neighbors and cousins.

Unfortunately, I'm still seeking that big answer for my big question.

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