Left to Tell: A Review with Partial Answers
by Stella Atrium 12/28/11
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
I 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
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
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.
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
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
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?
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
Unfortunately, I'm still seeking that big answer for my big question.