Review Blog

Apr 04 2016

One thousand hills by James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe

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Omnibus Books, 2016. ISBN 9781742990750
(Age: 15- Adult) Themes: Genocide; Historical events - Rwanda; Innocence; Discrimination; Children in a time of conflict; Refugees; Family. Knowing the ultimate outcome of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 creates an underlying tension throughout the reading of this book. This narrative is essentially a counselling session - but it is also a horrible and slowly unfolding catastrophe. The young man, Pascal, retells his experience to a school counsellor in explanation for an incident that he was involved in at school. Slowly and painfully he reveals the events of his life at the time of the genocide and his survival after the incredible unspeakable tragedy. Should it remain unspoken? Or does speaking it out loud release the tension or bring it to mind again? For the reader, it is important to know how tragic this experience was for the people involved, and the innocent voice of the young Pascal, as his 10 year old self, creates added anguish. The boy comes from a mixed tribe family (both Hutu and Tutsi) and small snippets of the civil unrest filter to him through scattered threads of conversation until the events of the massacre impact violently into his normally gentle and religious family. The author slowly takes us on the journey from the tender and normal family life of the Rwandan family, with its normal sibling rivalries and chores, to the final explosive scenes of betrayal and genocide. In a manner similar to The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, the innocent voice of the central character magnifies the horror of the atrocities inflicted.
This is an extremely moving, but atrocious story. And it is an account of the reality of experience for co-author Noel Zihabamwe. This is a compelling narrative, but I would be loath to put this into the hands of a reader too young to understand this part of history or one who is vulnerable to violence or is traumatised by news accounts of bloody conflict. The added horror of the involvement of some from the church in assisting in the tragedy will also be difficult for some readers. How humans can be so cruel to one another and lose sight of their common humanity is a huge unspoken question from the young Pascal. Even though this is written in a simple and 'youthful' style it is suited for mature readers aged 15+ and adult readers.
Carolyn Hull

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