Monday, June 05, 2006

An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography by Paul Rusesabagina with Tom Zoellner

What should you know about Paul Rusesabagina, the author of An Ordinary Man?

Paul Rusesabagina was just a hotel manager doing his job. He says this numerous times in his book. While his statement sounds humble, it should be remember that his job as hotel manager required that he keep over 1000 people residing in the Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali, Rwanda alive during 74 days of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. While blood literally flowed in the streets of the city, no one in the hotel died or was injured. How Rusesabagina kept the killers at bay is the central story of the book.

Rusesabagina is a Hutu because his father was a Hutu and his mother a Tutsi. His closest friend in school was a Tutsi because his father was a Tutsi and his mother a Hutu. The author explains how there really are no natural differences among the people of Rwanda. Belgians created the artificial ethnicity to manipulate the Rwandans during colonial rule.

Rusesabagina fights with words not weapons. His ability to keep talking face to face with militia, rebels, police, and Rwandan military officers (they were all dangerous) is what prevented a slaughter of refugees in his hotel. He would offer drinks from the hotel cellar to anyone who threatened his guests.

Rusesabagina trained to be a Seventh-Day Adventist minister before he became a hotel manager, but he is quick to criticize churches for not acting to stop the genocide. He also tells how the United Nations peacekeeping force failed to act when it could have easily stopped the initial violence. He explains how the United Nations leadership and the international community (especially the Clinton administration) failed to do anything later.

Rusesabagina left Rwanda two years after the genocide because his life was in danger. He became a cab driver in Brussels until he could develop an African trucking firm. When the film Hotel Rwanda, which he praises, became popular, he began lecturing on Rwandan history.

The author warns that corruption and injustice continue in Rwanda, and the genocide could begin again.

An Ordinary Man is a compelling story, which I recommend to many readers. The accounts of murder by machete are horrific, but the message of common people risking their lives to save neighbors and strangers alike is encouraging. If you can, listen to the book read by Dominic Hoffman.

Rusesabagina, Paul. An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography. New York: Viking, 2006. ISBN 0670037524

7 compact discs. Westminster, Maryland: Books on Tape, 2006. ISBN 1415928908

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