Left to Tell by Immaculée Ilibigiza

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust is a 214 page personal account of Immaculée Ilibigiza’s struggle with faith and forgiveness throughout the Rwandan Holocaust in 1994. I read this book for my multicultural literature class while we were studying Rwanda, as my professor is Rwandan and enjoys spending a good amount of time on literature from there.

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

The plot of the novel is quite straightforward; Immaculée Ilibigiza gives an account of her childhood and  education when she was younger (and rather privileged) and also her life of terror during the genocide in order to show how she rediscovered her faith. She details her family life and how close she was to her brothers and school friends, and how, being Tutsi, they all suffered at the hands of Hutu extremists during the 1994 massacre.

Early in the novel, she tells how the Tutsi people were judged even when they were in school. Though this might be attributed to her minor experience of primary education outside of her village, her extremist teacher is no less outrageously terrifying. Ilibigiza also does not mention how the Tutsi people were the dominant ones in the recent past thanks to Belgian missionaries, but she admits in the book that this is not an account of how and why the genocide occurred, but a story of faith.

I am not religious at all, so I have to say, it was refreshing to see someone’s true struggles with faith.  While Immaculée was forced to live in a bathroom with seven other women for about three months, they were expected to keep quiet and in solitude for most of that time. This caused a doubting voice in Ilibigiza’s mind — telling her to seek vengeance on the killers of her family and friends and that there was no God, or if there was, he was clearly punishing or ignoring her. This book did exactly what it set out to do. It was a powerful account of a woman’s search for God through a time of incredible pain and misery.

Some doubts in my mind have been cast by my professor about this book. Truthful accounts from Ilibigiza herself to friends hint that this story might not be the full truth. However, creative non-fiction is often this way, so I just tried not to let that alter my opinion too much. Overall, though I didn’t enjoy having to read “God this, God that,” I did enjoy Ilibigiza’s positive attitude. She never lets herself get too down. Also, though I don’t agree, she seems to be saying that if you pray to God enough over something, He will give you anything you want. Fortunately for her, that actually worked out. Unfortunately for the 1,000,000 people who died in the Rwandan Holocaust, it did not. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys uplifting stories, even if they are a little cliché.

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