Dave Eggers, author of What Is the What
“Jean Hatzfeld’s Machete Season, wherein the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide spoke about their crimes, was an astonishing feat of reportage and oral history. Life Laid Bare, which allows the victims to speak, is an even greater achievement—a book so elegantly wrought, so unexpected and revelatory, that it’s absolutely essential reading in understanding what happened in Rwanda, how the survivors of genocide find a way to begin again while never forgetting to bear witness. As Marie-Lousie Kagoyire, one of the narrators says, ‘[S]howing our hearts to a stranger, talking about how we feel, laying bare our feelings as survivors, that shocks us beyond measure.’”
French journalist and war correspondent Hatzfeld offers brief, pithy accounts of 14 survivors of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which 10,000 Tutsis seeking refuge in churches were slaughtered by machete-wielding Hutus…Even though each account tells the same harrowing story, each voice is unique. Bringing cumulative power to what, in lesser hands, might have been a random collection of historical accounts, Hatzfeld’s wrenching collection compels an active response to the genocides occurring today.
For each of the 14 interviewed today, Hatfeld fills in the background and provides a black-and-white photo. Those photos, accompanied by the clear personal voices, break your heart. The daily struggle with survivor guilt and outsiders’ indifference is part of a constant connection with the Holocaust.
As he did in Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (2005), journalist Hatzfeld provides informative introductions to each chapter but allows his subjects to speak for themselves. The collection’s devastating power comes from the no-holds-barred narratives, with additional kudos to translator Coverdale for rendering their words in spare, haunting English….Hatzfeld is to be commended for helping to preserve crucial eyewitness testimony and for sharing it with what one hopes will be a very large audience.