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The Antelope's Strategy

Living in Rwanda After the Genocide

Jean Hatzfeld; Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale


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ISBN10: 0312429371
ISBN13: 9780312429379

Trade Paperback

256 Pages



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Winner of the 2007 Prix Médici

The Antelope's Strategy is a powerful report on the aftereffects of the genocide in Rwanda—and on the near impossibility of reconciliation between survivors and killers. In two acclaimed previous works, the noted French journalist Jean Hatzfeld offered a profound, harrowing witness to the unimaginable pain and horror in the mass killings of one group of people by another. Combining his own analysis of the events with interviews from both the Hutu killers who carried out acts of unimaginable depravity and the Tutsi survivors who somehow managed to escape, in one, based mostly on interviews with Tutsi survivors, he explored in unprecedented depth the witnesses' understanding of the psychology of evil and their courage in survival; in the second, he probed further, in talks with a group of Hutu killers about their acts of unimaginable depravity.

Now, in The Antelope's Strategy, he returns to Rwanda seven years later to talk with both the Hutus and Tutsis he'd come to know—some of the killers who had been released from prison or returned from Congolese exile, and the Tutsi escapees who must now tolerate them as neighbors. How are they managing with the process of reconciliation? Do you think in their hearts it is possible? The enormously varied and always surprising answers he gets suggest that the political ramifications of the international community's efforts to insist on resolution after these murderous episodes are incalculable. This is an astonishing exploration of the pain of memory, the nature of stoic hope, and the ineradicability of grief.


Praise for The Antelope's Strategy

"'Why keep on?' asks Claudine Kayitesi, a Tutsi survivor living in relative peace in Nyamata, Rwanda. Her question is not a philosophical one, though that would be understandable given what she has experienced—rape, displacement, the murder of a sister and many others. Rather, her query is directed at the persistent questions of the French journalist Jean Hatzfeld, who has returned to the war-torn landscape he wrote about in two previous books, The Machete Season and Life Laid Bare, to speak again to survivors and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. Why Hatzfeld keeps on asking questions is among the many thought-provoking issues at the heart of his new book, The Antelope's Strategy. Seven years after his reporting for Machete Season, Hatzfeld finds a much-changed Rwanda: The terrors of war have been replaced by an awkward—and sometimes dangerous—atmosphere of forced reconciliation. Some Hutu prisoners have been released or have returned from exile to live among the families of those they killed. 'Not one prisoner came asking for forgiveness,' says Kayitesi. A Hutu ex-convict notes, 'I was charged, I was convicted, I was pardoned. I did not ask to be forgiven.' Hatzfeld captures this tension gracefully, weaving lengthy interview excerpts with his own artfully written observations. The result is a book that illustrates vividly the thorny realities that accompany survival and appeasement. 'People are living peacefully, but actually they are avoiding one another,' Kayitesi comments in the book's final pages. 'We'll be humble and nice, we'll share, we'll cooperate as we should. But believing them is unthinkable.'"—Nora Krug, The Washington Post

"A profound inquiry into the character of social relationships in a post-genocide society . . . One would not guess the importance of Hatzfeld's slim volumes from their calm pacing and their modest tone . . . Hatzfeld works from an awareness of the essential paradox in writing about genocide, which is that he is bound to describe what is beyond words. Leaving much of the exposition to his tersely eloquent Rwandan subjects, his solution is linguistic restraint and emotional tact, as if too many words and too many feelings would corrupt the account of such a reality . . . Hatzfeld's books, and especially The Antelope's Strategy, push against the tight framing of genocide as a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Hatzfeld wants us to see that genocide is a process halted only with great difficulty and political will . . . He is a historian and a moral observer of great distinction."—Christine Stansell, The New Republic

"Harrowing . . . Hatzfeld tackles the hardest questions of justice and reparations; of why some are broken or fall into despair while others are able to find anew some peace of mind and pleasure of life."—Anita Seth, The Independent (UK)

"The Antelope's Strategy, third in a series of books the French journalist has written on the Rwandan genocide, is born of seven years of sustained conversation with survivors and perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, men and women who populate the hilltops around Nyamata, roughly 20 miles from the capital city of Kigali . . . Hatzfeld's books acknowledge something that [others] cannot: the passage of time . . . [The author] has cultivated relationships with ordinary Rwandans who, in the 15 years since the genocide destroyed both family structures and trust between neighbors, have had to renegotiate their everyday lives . . . Part literary reportage, part oral history, and with only a subtle narrative arc, Hatzfeld's book defies form. It's a daring conceit as he writes about a history which defies comprehension . . . Hatzfeld captures ordinary Rwandans at their most contemplative, working out the dilemma that will define the rest of their lives: How can survivors and killers share hilltops again? [He] gets closer to Rwandans, and stays longer to listen, than any other journalist has. What he reveals is a country of unspoken loss."—Jina Moore, The Christian Science Monitor

"The journalist Jean Hatzfeld was born to Jewish parents who had fled to Madagascar during WWII. He was raised in France and first traveled to Rwanda in 1994, the year of the massacre. He hasn't stopped writing about it since. As Hatzfeld admits, he is 'obsessed' with the history of Rwanda's genocide, in which Hutu militias killed approximately 800,000 Tutsis over a 100-day period, primarily using clubs and machetes. Hence the title of his stunning Machete Season, which collects Hatzfeld's interviews with the killers. Life Laid Bare, a companion volume, provides an oral history from the survivors' point of view. Both books are astonishing, but The Antelope's Strategy, his latest book on the war, may be the most intriguing of the trilogy, because it combines both killer and survivor voices to examine the thorny and existentially frustrating issue of national reconciliation. In January 2003, a presidential decree released a group of 40,000 killers convicted of genocide from prison. The Antelope's Strategy—named after the scattering technique of groups of hunted Tutsis running in the forest—follows up with the speakers of his previous two books, the killers and the victims, as they struggle to cohabitate in the farming region of Nyamata. A lucid account of tangled reconciliation efforts, the book coolly observes both national and local politics in a country where ex-killers can now be community court judges. But mostly, it probes the nature of forgiveness, and remorse, without ever presenting a monolithic picture of what either might mean. One Tutsi survivor marries a man who probably killed members of her family. The Antelope's Strategy weighs important factual information with an exploration of individual lives and the big questions that motivate Hatzfeld's fascination with genocide—namely, how people speak about it and record it in its terrible aftermath."—Hillary Chute, Time Out New York

"In his third book on the genocide [in Rwanda], Jean Hatzfeld addresses the psychic wounds festering behind the façade of government-constructed peace. He asks hard questions that others dodge: How does a survivor come face-to-face with killers who slaughtered family members? What goes through the minds of Hutus who hunted Tutsis in forests and marshes to hack them to death with machetes? 'After a genocide, survivors and criminals alike usually keep quiet, reluctant to speak of their still-raw experience of human extermination,' Hatzfeld writes. Having gained the confidence of both Hutus and Tutsis from his previous work, however, he is able to gather remarkable testimony on how things are really progressing for both sides . . . Any appearance of a calm normality from a Tutsi is superficial at best, Hatzfeld believes. Unlike most genocidal killers, Hutus were more than forthcoming with Hatzfeld when he interviewed them behind bars. After their release, however, some of them continued to speak with him with candor, but most didn't apologize to Tutsi survivors or detail their actions in village meetings. One leader of the hunts for Tutsis, Leopord Twagirayezu, was so haunted by his memories that he testified far and wide about the extreme cruelty of the hunts up until his assassination. If he thought his revelations would spur other Hutus to confront their culpability and speak out publicly, he was misguided: others speak about staggeringly efficient hunts (only 20 of 6,000 Tutsi who fled into the Kayumba Forest survived) with shocking casualness. The natural response is for the Hutus and surviving Tutsis to avoid each other, but Hatzfeld views social mixing in towns, markets and cabarets as strained first steps toward reconciliation and a forgetting that may take generations to achieve. Readers of this painfully sad report from a scarred nation will feel the tenuous and anguished present in Rwanda by pondering the statement of one survivor: 'Although I am relieved, I am never at peace.'"—John McFarland, Shelf Awareness

"A searching companion to Liberation correspondent Hatzfeld's Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak, recounting events in Rwanda 15 years after the spasm of ethnic violence that left untold dead in its wake. Scarcely anyone in Rwanda, Hutu or Tutsi, was not touched by the savagery that broke out when, in April 1994, Hutu militias began to slaughter Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Overwhelmingly, Hatzfeld finds the survivors psychologically broken and hollow, feeling as if they had been 'betrayed by life—[and] who can bear that?' His account opens in 2003, with the specter of a thin, dusty, endless column of 40,000 men, freed from camps and penitentiaries after having served time for their role in the genocide. Some of the interned, one of their number reflects, were jubilant; others, denying any wrongdoing, were furious at having been imprisoned in the first place. All were faced with the problem of making new lives in public, among the relatives and families of those whom they had killed. Some respond with drink, some with silence, some with isolation and some with anger. Lest there be an explosion of wife-beating and violence after the amnesty, government workers counseled, 'Remain calm with your guilty spouse, be peaceable with your neighbor, patient with those who are traumatized, obedient with the authorities. And don't delay in getting to work on clearing your overgrown fields.' The advice, it seems, mainly took, and if few Rwandans seem happy and suspicions endure, most people seem to be slowly getting back to life as usual, even if, as one man tells Hatzfeld, 'I'm afraid of dreams.' Thanks to the work of Rwandans who insist on attaining justice—an arduous project, given the absence of a fully functioning judiciary and the difficulty of finding 'simple fairness' in the back-and-forth of accusation and defense—some measure of normality is at last attainable in that unfortunate country. A telling report and a substantive addition to the literature of humanitarian aid and ethnic violence."—Kirkus Reviews

"An amazing look at the reconciliation of evil and forgiveness."—Vanessa Bush, Booklist

"The horrors of communal violence give way to quieter torments in this harrowing collection of oral histories. Hatzfeld revisits Tutsi survivors and confessed Hutu killers he interviewed in Life Laid Bare and Machete Season after the latter were unexpectedly released from prison and returned to their homes . . . The official Rwandan policy of reconciliation holds: Hutu-Tutsi relations are civil, and one génocidaire even marries a Tutsi woman whose relatives were slaughtered. But to Hatzfeld, the survivors reveal inner scars—their unappeasable sense of grief, dispossession and mistrust of their neighbors, the fillip of fear whenever they encounter Hutu farmers carrying their machetes, the bitterness that justice has been sacrificed for national recovery. (Less anguished, the pardoned Hutu perpetrators express a diplomatic repentance and relief at having escaped retribution.) Hatzfeld includes nightmarish scenes from the genocide; survivors recall running for their lives for weeks on end, regressing to the status of game animals as Hutu hunting bands cut down their families and friends. Just as haunting is the spiritual aftermath: 'I believed in honorable effort, decent behavior, the straight and narrow path,' one Tutsi woman recalls, '[but] from now on, I'm suspicious of moral maxims.'"—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


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Chapter One

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About the author

Jean Hatzfeld; Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

Jean Hatzfeld, an international reporter for Libération since 1973, is the author of many books, including Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (FSG, 2005). He lives in Paris.

© Patrice Normand/Opale/Leemage

Jean Hatzfeld