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A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali

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A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche
Paperback $15.00
Oct 12, 2004 | ISBN 9781400034345

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  • Oct 12, 2004 | ISBN 9781400034345

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  • Dec 18, 2007 | ISBN 9780307424525

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“Haunting, graceful . . . with a journalist’s unblinking eye and an appreciation of bitter irony.” —The New York Times

“Harrowing, cinematic. . . . Styled after Conrad, Camus, and Greene . . . it gets to you, slithers into your dreams like the original snake in the Edenic hill country of central Africa.” —Elle

“[A] wonderfully rich portrait of fear and love in the face of atrocity . . . chillingly evocative . . . This land of the dying comes alive.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Harrrowing. . . . A brilliant book full of rage and sorrow.” —The Baltimore Sun

“Remarkable. . . . Courtemanche . . . [uses] fiction’s unique capacity to imaginatively adopt the viewpoints of others to show us the reality of what happened in Rwanda more intimately than journalism ever could. . . . One cannot consider one’s awareness of the Rwanda Genocide sufficiently profound without reading this book.” —Washington Post

“The novel of the year. . . . A fresco with humanist accents which could easily find a place next to the works of Albert Camus and Graham Greene.” —La Presse

“Astonishing. . . . Moving, comic and horrifying all at once. . . . Courtemanche’s novel conveys the pressure of lived experience very powerfully; yet at the same time experience is clearly meditated by a sophisticated literary imagination. . . . The first great novel of the catastrophe that befell the country.” —The Guardian

“Compelling. . . . [Like] a report from the front lines. . . . Courtemanche, like his journalist hero, keeps the memory of [the Rwandan genocide] alive with his words.” —Boston Globe

“This is where Courtemanche is most powerful: he’s not afraid to question morality, nor to reveal the human condition in all its heinous inhumanity. The story is intense and gut-wrenching . . . poetic and disquieting.” —The Observer

“Illuminating and horrifying, compassionate and scathing. . . . Despite the harrowing subject matter of the novel, Courtemanche sustains a composed narrative voice of grim detachment. The effect is chilling.” —Times Literary Supplement

“Evokes humanity in all its depth and breadth. . . . Through a felicitous mix of reportage and fiction, Courtemanche has powerfully portrayed a lucid character deeply engaged in a humanist quest.” —Le Journal de Montreal

“Powerful. . . . Written with brutal earthiness and a tender, sensual transcendence.” —Toronto Globe & Mail

“Excellent. . . .Urgent and nervewrackingly ominous, with a surprisingly boisterous humour but, mostly, it leaves a numb shock.” –Financial Times

“This novel is not only powerful and beautifully written. Corrosive, denunciatory, A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali also evokes the powerlessness and the complicity that permitted the [Rwandan] massacre to take place.” —Le Devoir

Author Q&A

1) Can you tell us how you became a writer?
It’s the classic story. I always wanted to be a writer but I became a journalist, though this didn’t stop me from writing poetry, songs, television comedy. I came to writing books late, because I admired too many writers. I didn’t feel equal to it, and I had the impression that to publish you had to be either a genius (rare), or a bit pretentious. And then, to impress an intellectual woman, I think, I wrote my first book. The way it was received gave me the courage to publish more. And now I continue.

2) What inspired you to write this particular book? Is there a story about the writing of this novel that begs to be told?
It was a long internal journey, although I don’t like that expression. I passed a lot of time in Rwanda before the genocide while making a documentary on AIDS. I made some friends there, almost all of whom were killed during the genocide, and more still died from AIDS. I returned there several months after the genocide to gather testimonies of survivors and also to try to discover how my friends had disappeared. After several years, I said to myself that the only way to tell their actual life was to invent their last days and their death. But it’s also the fruit of a reflection, perhaps subconscious, on traditional journalism that hardly ever succeeds in telling us about people in torment, only the torment itself with people inside that one cannot distinguish or identify.

3) What is it that you’re exploring in this book?
The coupling of life and death, the African coupling of sex and death, but above all the capacity of humans to be greater than all the horrors that they can invent. The absolute presence of life even in the most horrific moments of history. The superiority of life. And a bit about love that sometimes elevates lovers.

4) Who is your favourite character in this book, and why?
I think it’s Gentille because, like all the African women I’ve met, she has the spirit of what Paul Eluard calls “the persistent desire to endure”.

5) Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?
Only to think that these are our neighbours and that everything the media tell us about tribal wars is just a big heap of bullshit, fed by an unconscious racism or by a total ignorance of Africa.

6) Do you have a favourite story to tell about being interviewed about your book?
Yes, in Spain a young radio reporter, as elegant as a Flamenco dancer, started out by saying: Why write another book about the Second World War? I should say that he had admitted to having not read the book. I didn’t think that he hadn’t even read the press release and that he thought perhaps that Kigali was a French town.

7) Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
For me, I think of “work” as what I do for a living and not as in “work of art”. So, no. Because I don’t treat my work as a journalist and my work as a writer of books any differently. I’m always doing the same thing: telling stories. So if I tell them well or badly, that depends on taste, context or unconscious prejudice. But the great many articles, reviews or profiles in all the countries in which I am published have convinced me that what I am telling is of interest to hundreds of thousands of people.

8) Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?
Albert Camus, André Malraux, Graham Greene, Paul Éluard.

9) If you weren’t writing, what would you want to be doing for a living? What are some of your other passions in life?
Musician or cook (in my own restaurant).

Probably the passion for the human being and all its creation: especially jazz, wine and food, hockey and Canadian football, sitcoms like Friends or All in the Family, learning, travelling, telling stories and, mostly, being in love.

10) If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
The Bible. But the story would be quite different. Neither Sharon, Hamas, Bush or Bin Laden could invoke the name of God for justifying their killings. They would be in God’s jail.

More seriously: The Outsider by Albert Camus or The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

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