Gourevitch recounts Rwandan horror

Penn Current
February 26, 2004

“We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998) has to be one of the strangest, most repellent and at the same time revelatory book titles ever to appear on the nonfiction best-seller list. The subtitle, “Tales from Rwanda,” sets the place, but the question its author, New Yorker staff writer Philip Gourevitch, asks has universal application: How do people make choices in the midst of horror?

Gourevitch was at Kelly Writers House on Feb. 18 for an evening of (mostly) reading and (a little) conversation. Paul Hendrickson, who teaches nonfiction writing at Penn, introduced him to the overflow crowd of young writers as a “moral documentarian whose spare, lyric and savagely ironic prose made his book a classic of the journalism of moral witness.”

“Genocide,” Gourevitch has said, “was the compass point from which every substantive conversation in Rwanda needled.” In his readings from the book, interspersed with extended asides and frequent paraphrasing, Gourevitch returned again and again to the question, “How do we think about who is right and who is wrong?”

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