An Ordinary Man
Paul Rusesabagina
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Buy *An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography* by Paul Rusesabagina online

An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography
Paul Rusesabagina
207 pages
February 2007
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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What would YOU do if presented with the choice of killing or being killed? In the midst of bloody chaos and slaughter that seems like it’s the end of the world as you know it, would you join in the murdering of innocent civilians, or would you try to save as many lives as you could, even if many of them were your traditional enemies, who might kill you, if the situation was reversed? This is the terror of genocide. It is violence at the deepest level, the kind that shakes a person’s soul and makes them question their religious beliefs. It is the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina, An Ordinary Man, whose life and actions helped save lives during the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda. His tale was depicted in the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” with actor Don Cheadle playing the role of Rusesabagina.

During one hundred days in 1994, all hell broke loose in Rwanda. Neighbors who had lived side by side for years in relative peace suddenly hacked each other apart with machetes over a supposed difference in race. The government of the strong-arm Hutu dictactor President Habyarimana, through insidious radio broadcasts, spread hate propaganda against the Tutsis. The Tutsis are, in general, a taller group of people than the Hutus, with slenderer noses. The radio broadcasters would say things to stir up the Hutus to violence over the Tutsis, who formerly made up the ruling elite class of Rwanda despite being in the minority. Examples of what the broadcasters said referred to the height of the Tutsis, and dehumanized them and the killing of them by comparing them to “tall trees”:

“Do your work,” I heard the announcers say. “Clean your neighborhood of brush. Cut the tall trees.”
The 1994 genocide was the most rapid, most efficient one in history, according to the author. Over 800,000 people died. Paul Rusesabagina considers himself to be “an ordinary man” and “a hotel manager.” He was and is both, but he rose to the occasion during some of his country’s grimmest, darkest, and bloodiest days and helped save the lives of 1,268 people by giving them sanctuary in the hotel Mille Collines. He did his part to save as many lives as he could, though to put the number in perspective, he says
At he end, the best you can say is that my hotel saved about four hours’ worth of people. Take four hours away from one hundred days and you have an idea of just how little I was able to accomplish against the grand design.
His own life and that of his family were threatened, but he did not do the easiest, most expedient thing and turn over the refugees to whom he was granting a safe haven in the hotel. Paul did what he felt was morally right, even when faced with the possibility of his own death. He kept a black ledger of government officials who owed him favors and called them in at different crucial points, keeping the hotel from being stormed and people from being slaughtered several times.

To what did he credit his survival and the success at saving the more than a thousand lives? His upbringing, for one; treating other people who you knew were evil as still human, with both evil and good sides, for another; and the careful use of words. Words are largely what instigated the genocide in the first place, and Paul knew that words could also be used to save people. He tried to reach the soft or good side of the murderers he talked to and bargained with, realizing that the lives of over a thousand people depended on how well he could read human nature and recognize underlying needs and personality traits. He offered generals or other military leaders money, alcohol, whatever would work to keep the people at the hotel alive for another day.

An Ordinary Man is one of the top five best nonfiction books I have ever read. Besides being an incredible story of survival, a measure of luck, and the success one man who is in the moral right can have against a world gone mad, it is an excellently written book. It reminded me of George Orwell’s 1984 somewhat, and Emma Larkin’s wonderful account of Orwell’s life in Burma as a policeman, Finding George Orwell In Burma. I have never seen the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” but if it is anywhere close to being as good as this book is, it must be extremely good . I highly recommend An Ordinary Man. It is a book that belongs on the bookshelves of anyone concerned about the world today, and and it helps explain how and why genocides like the one in Darfur are happening, even when we keep saying “never again.”

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Douglas R. Cobb, 2007

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