Presenting, an essential reading list for anyone looking to learn more about Rwanda. Here are works by journalists moving through the country in the aftermath of the genocide, biographies & memoirs of people who played a prominent role during and after 1994, and even a few works of fiction – all curated to make Rwanda a little more familiar to our readers.
Philip Gourevitch Stephen Kinzer Jean Hatzfeld Gerard Prunier Immaculee Ilibagiza Roméo Dallaire Pierre-Claver Ndacyayisenga Naomi Benaron Clemantine Wamariya Gaile Parkin Paul Rusesabagina Halsey Carr Gil Courtemanche Fergal Keane Elisabeth Combres Joseph Sebarenzi Scholastique Mukasonga Michael Barnett Edouard Kayihura Jennifer Haupt
Philip Gourevitch’s haunting work is an anatomy of the killings in Rwanda, a vivid history of the genocide’s background, and an unforgettable account of what it means to survive in its aftermath.
2. A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It by Stephen Kinzer
A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It is the story of Paul Kagame, a refugee who, after a generation of exile, found his way home. In this adventurous tale, learn about Kagame’s early fascination with Che Guevara and James Bond, his years as an intelligence agent, his training in Cuba and the United States, the way he built his secret rebel army, his bloody rebellion, and his outsized ambitions for Rwanda.
In the villages of Nyamata and N’tarama, Hatzfeld interviewed fourteen survivors of the genocide, from orphan teenage farmers to the local social worker. In Life Laid Bare, they speak for those who are no longer alive to speak for themselves; they tell of the deaths of family and friends in the churches and marshes to which they fled, and they attempt to account for the reasons behind the Tutsi extermination.
4. Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe by Gerard Prunier
The Rwandan genocide sparked a horrific bloodbath that swept across sub-Saharan Africa, ultimately leading to the deaths of some four million people. In this extraordinary history of the recent wars in Central Africa, Gerard Prunier offers a gripping account of how one grisly episode laid the groundwork for a sweeping and disastrous upheaval.
5. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza
Immaculee’s family was brutally murdered during a killing spree that lasted three months and claimed the lives of nearly a million Rwandans. Incredibly, Immaculee survived the slaughter. For 91 days, she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them. The triumphant story of this remarkable young woman’s journey through the darkness of genocide will inspire anyone whose life has been touched by fear, suffering, and loss.
6. Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Roméo Dallaire
When Lt-Gen. Roméo Dallaire was called to serve as force commander of the UN intervention in Rwanda in ’93, he thought he was heading off on a straightforward peacekeeping mission. Thirteen months later he flew home from Africa, broken, disillusioned & suicidal, having witnessed the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans in 100 days. In Shake Hands with the Devil, he takes readers with him on a return voyage into hell, vividly recreating the events the international community turned its back on.
7. Dying to Live: A Rwandan Family’s Five-Year Flight Across the Congo by Pierre-Claver Ndacyayisenga
Pierre-Claver Ndacyayisenga was teaching history in Kigali, Rwanda, when he was forced to flee to the neighboring Congo with his wife and three children. Thus began a harrowing five-year voyage of survival during which they travelled thousands of miles on foot from one refugee camp to another. This brilliant and touching book is the story of one family among the more than 300,000 refugees—many of whom did not survive.
8. Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld
During the spring of 1994, in a tiny country called Rwanda, some 800,000 people were hacked to death, one by one, by their neighbors in a gruesome civil war. Several years later, journalist Jean Hatzfeld traveled to Rwanda to interview ten participants in the killings, eliciting extraordinary testimony from these men about the genocide they perpetrated.
9. Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
Running the Rift follows Jean Patrick Nkuba, a gifted Rwandan boy, from the day he knows that running will be his life to the moment he must run to save his life, a ten-year span in which his country is undone by the Hutu-Tutsi tensions.
10. The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil
Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were “thunder.” Clemantine and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, ran and spent the next six years wandering through seven African countries searching for safety–hiding under beds, foraging for food, surviving and fleeing refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing unimaginable cruelty. Raw, urgent, yet disarmingly beautiful, The Girl Who Smiled Beads captures the true costs and aftershocks of war: what is forever lost, what can be repaired, the fragility and importance of memory, the faith that one can learn, again, to love oneself, even with deep scars.
11. Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin
This gloriously written tale—set in modern-day Rwanda—introduces one of the most singular and engaging characters in recent fiction: Angel Tungaraza—mother, cake baker, keeper of secrets—a woman living on the edge of chaos, finding ways to transform lives, weave magic, and create hope amid the madness swirling all around her.
12. An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography by Paul Rusesabagina
The riveting life story of Paul Rusesabagina – the man whose heroism inspired the film Hotel Rwanda. As his country was being torn apart by violence during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina – the ‘Oskar Schindler of Africa’ – refused to bow to the madness that surrounded him. Confronting killers with a combination of diplomacy, flattery, and deception, he offered shelter to more than twelve thousand members of the Tutsi clan and Hutu moderates, while homicidal mobs raged outside with machetes.
13. Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda by Rosamond Halsey Carr
In 1949, Rosamond Halsey Carr, a young fashion illustrator living in New York City, accompanied her dashing hunter-explorer husband to what was then the Belgian Congo. When the marriage fell apart, she decided to stay on in neighboring Rwanda, as the manager of a flower plantation. Land of a Thousand Hills is Carr’s thrilling memoir of her life in Rwanda–a love affair with a country and a people that has spanned half a century.
14. The Antelope’s Strategy: Living in Rwanda After the Genocide by Jean Hatzfeld
A powerful report on the aftereffects of the genocide in Rwanda–and on the near impossibility of reconciliation between survivors and killers. 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?
15. A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali is a moving, passionate love story set amid the turmoil and terror of Rwanda’s genocide.
16. Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey by Fergal Keane
When President Habyarimana’s jet was shot down in April 1994, Rwanda erupted into a hundred-day orgy of killing – which left up to a million dead. Fergal Keane travelled through the country as the genocide was continuing, and his powerful analysis reveals the terrible truth behind the headlines.
17. Broken Memory: A Story of Rwanda by Elisabeth Combres
Hiding behind a chair, five-year-old Emma can’t see her mother being murdered, but she hears everything. When the assassins finally leave, the terrified girl stumbles away from the scene, motivated only by the memory of her mother’s last words: “You must not die, Emma!” Moments of grace and tenderness illuminate this spare, sensitive novel, which tells the story of the 1994 attacks in an age-appropriate manner.
18. God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation by Joseph Sebarenzi
This memoir tells the story of Joseph Sebarenzi, whose parents, seven siblings, and countless other family members were among 800,000 Tutsi brutally murdered over the course of ninety days in 1994 by extremist Rwandan Hutu — an efficiency that exceeded even that of the Nazi Holocaust. God Sleeps in Rwanda demonstrates how horrific events can occur when the rest of the world stands by and does nothing.
19. Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga
Imagine being born into a world where everything about you–the shape of your nose, the look of your hair, the place of your birth–designates you as an undesirable, an inferior, a menace, no better than a cockroach, something to be driven away and ultimately exterminated. Scholastique Mukasonga’s Cockroaches is the story of growing up a Tutsi in Hutu-dominated Rwanda–the story of a happy child, a loving family, all wiped out in the genocide of 1994.
20. Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda by Michael Barnett
Why was the UN a bystander during the Rwandan genocide? Do its sins of omission leave it morally responsible for the hundreds of thousands of dead? Michael Barnett, who worked at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations from 1993 to 1994, covered Rwanda for much of the genocide. In Eyewitness to a Genocide, Barnett argues that its indifference was driven not by incompetence or cynicism but rather by reasoned choices cradled by moral considerations.
21. Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story … and Why It Matters Today by Edouard Kayihura
In Inside the Hotel Rwanda, survivor Edouard Kayihura tells his own personal story of what life was really like during those harrowing days within the walls of that infamous hotel and offers the testimonies of others who survived there, from Hutu and Tutsi to UN peacekeepers. Inside the Hotel Rwanda is at once a memoir, a critical deconstruction of a heralded Hollywood movie alleged to be factual, and a political analysis aimed at exposing a falsely created hero using his fame to be a political force, spouting the same ethnic apartheid that caused the genocide two decades ago.
22. In The Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
Follow the intertwining stories of three women from diverse backgrounds, all searching for family and personal peace in post-genocide Rwanda. At the heart of this inspiring novel that bestselling author Wally Lamb calls “an evocative page-turner” and Caroline Leavitt calls “blazingly original” is the discovery of grace when there can be no forgiveness.
Have you read any of these books? We would love to know what you think!
Let us know which other books about Rwanda you’ve enjoyed and we’ll add them to this list.
All descriptions have been picked up from Goodreads