Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali

When I was in university, I took a few classes on Third World Politics and attended a conference on African nations by the Mennonite Central committee. I also watched films like Hotel Rwanda, Shake Hands With the Devil, and Journey into Darkness. I thought I had a pretty good handle on what happened in Rwanda. I thought I could fathom the violence, and understand the victims.

And then I read A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali.

Gil Courtemanche’s novel is horrifying in its honesty, and a terrifyingly memorable read. It is a story of humanity, violence, brutality, betrayal, and love. Not only love between human beings, but also the love that one can have for one’s homeland.

The central plot revolves around Bernard Valcourt, a Quebecois journalist, and his  Hutu lover, Gentille. Their relationship develops as Rwanda sinks into violence. The more serious their relationship becomes, the greater the horror in Rwanda. Their relationship is doomed as soon as these two meet, but, as a reader, one can’t help but hoping everything will be alright for them.

This book is infused with sex. On that note, to me, it is much like Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers, as both books examine sex/passion in the face of adverse situations. In A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, I was struck how despite the horror of AIDS and death, the characters still want to make love, and still want to, for the most part, worship the human body. The characters live in the present, and don’t allow the fear of illness or death to interfere with procreation.  Some critics might denounce the sexual content as drawing attention away from genocide, but I feel that the sexual nature of this novel only enriches it.

Essentially, A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali is a tragedy based off of a real-life tragedy.  I think the novel does an excellent job of humanizing the events, and at recreating the tension before the genocide occurred. If you have any interest in modern Africa, then read this novel. I promise,  you won’t regret having done so.



A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali
Vintage (2004), Paperback, 272 pages

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