A Review of Rusesabagina’s An Ordinary Man

In The American Prospect, Kyle Mantyla reviews Paul Rusesabagina’s memoir of the Rwandan genocide.

Rusesabagina is perhaps the most well known survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, thanks mainly to Don Cheadle’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of his efforts to protect some 1,200 potential victims within the walls of Hotel Rwanda — the real life Hotel des Mille Collines. Since the film’s release in 2004, Rusesabagina has been hailed as a hero the world over, has been traveling the United States sharing his tale and, last year, was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Rusesabagina’s slim book, much like the movie, gives a rather limited perspective of the horrors that unfolded over those 100 days in 1994 as it is focused almost entirely on his experience during the genocide. But that is not necessarily a drawback as Rusesabagina manages to deftly weave Rwanda’s pre-genocide history, as well as the genocide itself, into his narrative. Whereas the rampant slaughter that engulfed the tiny nation seemed to exist mostly somewhere “out there” in the movie Hotel Rwanda, Rusesabagina conveys the sense that the massacres only remained “out there” thanks to the illusion of impenetrability the hotel provided — an illusion that existed, in large part, only because Rusesabagina worked tirelessly to create and maintain it.