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An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography (2006)

av Paul Rusesabagina, Tom Zoellner

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
6622626,056 (4.31)46
The life story of Paul Rusesabagina, the man whose heroism inspired the film Hotel Rwanda. As his country was torn apart by violence during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, hotel manager Rusesabagina--the "Oskar Schindler of Africa"--refused to bow to the madness that surrounded him. Confronting killers with a combination of diplomacy, flattery, and deception, he offered shelter to more than 12,000 members of the Tutsi clan and Hutu moderates, while homicidal mobs raged outside. This book explores what the film could not: the inner life of the man who became the most prominent public face of that terrible conflict. Rusesabagina tells his full story--the son of a rural farmer, the child of a mixed marriage, the career path which led him to become the first Rwandan manager of the Belgian-owned hotel--all of which contributed to his heroic actions in the face of horror.--From publisher description.… (mer)
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The title was, to me, offputting initially. It seemed like false modesty. "Oh, but I'm just an ordinary man...". But I changed my mind after listening.

Rusesabagina saved over a twelve hundred people from death during the short massacre in Rwanda in 1994. He calculated that he saved a matter of a few hours' worth of deaths, based on the rate of killing in those few months, a rate unsurpassed by any other genocide in recorded history.

How did he do it? And why?

He gives us quite a clue when he tells us about his childhood. His father was a leader in his village, and he was not afraid of death. He hid people during an earlier attempt at genocide, in the 1950s. He also provided Paul with an example of a person untainted by the absurd prejudices of the time.

Through this volume we become familiar with the history of Rwanda. Simply put, it was white conquerers, particularly Belgian, who set the hutus against the tutsis by defining the different groups prejudicially: the tutsis were the refined, intelligent leaders, while the hutus were only suitable for slave labor, essentially. This distinction served the Belgians well but in no way reflected reality. In fact, the two groups had been mixed for many years, to the point where almost everyone was really neither one or the other, and the two were never that different in the first place.

Paul had a Tutsi mother and a Hutu father. In Rwanda, this meant he was Tutsi. Yet one of his close friends from childhood, with a Tutsi father and Hutu mother, was defined as Hutu and was forced to leave school.

In the early 1990s a civilian radio station came on the air. At first it was all fun and provided a pleasant contrast to the government-run stations. But gradually it used its power to reach people to spread a message of hatred against the Tutsis. Paul placed the blame for the genocide primarily at the feet of this station, which, it turns out, actually was government-run after all.

But back to Paul and how he was able to be effective in his role as hotel manager. He was detail-oriented and fit the job of hotel manager very well. The French owners of the Hotel Mille Collines recognized his talent and sent him to hotel school and later placed him as manager. This was quite a coup for a black man working in a luxury hotel in Rwanda. Paul did not let the owners down. He was meticulous and careful and used his position to get to know the regulars, including many in the military and government. He was later able to use these connections to good effect.

It is hard to imagine a world where you wake up one morning and find that one of your neighbors is attacking another with a machete. Yet this is the world Paul did wake to, and strived to understand. In this memoir he does an excellent job of explaining the basis for the race hatred, the not-so-subtle propaganda, and the genocide. It is difficult to understand a situation where friends suddenly become enemies, where children are slaughtered along with their parents. Paul provides an explanation that we should pay attention to. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
What most impressed me about this book is the matter-of-fact way in which Rusesabagina narrates the desperation of Rwandans during their holocaust, and his own brave decisions and actions. ( )
  nmele | Aug 31, 2017 |
In 1994, the African country of Rwanda saw a brutal, bloody genocide as the majority Hutu population incited fear and violence all across the country, resulting in the murder of a staggering 800,000 of the Tutsi minority. Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu hotel manager in the capital city of Kigali aghast at what he was witnessing around him and risking his own life, sheltered more than 1,000 of the persecuted inside his hotel.

I'm always curious, when reading an autobiography that is co-written, about just how much of the writing is genuinely that of the individual in question, and how much has been "tidied up" by the more experienced author. In this case the prose and turns of phrase were distinct enough that I feel optimistic that the integrity of Rusesabagina's true voice has been preserved. How awe-inspiringly brave Paul Rusesabagina was amid such horrifying circumstances, and yet how fortunate he was to be in the unique position to assist in the manner he did. There is a lot of food for thought in this slim volume, not least the embarrassing level of inaction and seeming indifference by the UN and United States in response. ( )
  ryner | Jul 18, 2017 |
An exceptional memoir by a humanitarian hero and eyewitness to the Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days. Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, sheltered over 1,200 people and saved their lives. Nothing ordinary about him. ( )
  Sullywriter | May 22, 2015 |
This is the memoir of Paul Ruseabagina, a hotel manager in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. With "a cooler of beer, a leather binder, and a hidden phone" he saved 1,268 people. This is the story of how he used those tools to schmooze and persuade and bribe and conjole to keep the killers from murdering those under his protection. He dealt with some odious people, but as he put it in his concluding chapter, "[e]xcept in extreme circumstances it very rarely pays to show hostility to the people in your orbit." He was able to save those people because he was willing and able to sit down with killers, ply them with cognac and not flinch. That leather binder was filled with high-level contacts he had made in years of treating VIP hotel guests graciously. He wrote that no one is completely good or evil, and what he looked for was not the good or evil side but rather the "soft" versus the "hard" side. Sometimes that meant appealing to self-interest, greed or vanity--not just moral qualms. His approach and outlook on people reminded me of a quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that "the line separating good and evil passes... right through every human heart." Ruseabagina calls this memoir "an ordinary man" and in the introduction insists he's no hero.

I beg to differ.

Along the way the book examines the nature of genocide and what caused it to break out in Rwanda, what different infamous 20th century genocides share, and what could have prevented it. A lot went into the toxic cocktail. A legacy of European "divide and conquer" colonialism in Rwanda that ingrained and further stratified what were only (somewhat fluid) class divisions into racial divisions between the Tutsi and the Hutus. Preferential racial policies requiring racial registration and identification and which group was in favor swung back and forth between them depending on who was in power. One big contributor that surprised me was the poisonous role of talk radio that whipped up and organized the murderous hatred, calling Tutsi "cockroaches" and even giving out names and locations of people to murder.

Those were some of the internal factors. Ruseabagina also points outward to world indifference--particularly blaming the United Nations and the United States. I have to admit to feeling ambivalent about that as an American. I don't believe we should be the world's 911--and we get in trouble when we try. But I can't imagine saying that to Rusabagina's face without flinching--800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered right in front of the eyes of the world in around three months. It's hard not to respond to his plea that we mean it when we say "never again" and do better in the future in preventing genocide than the ineffectual UN efforts that stood by as so many were slaughtered. And actually maybe that's part of why Ruseabagina called this book An Ordinary Man--because he wants to emphasize what he did was nothing extraordinary, nothing beyond the reach of an ordinary person--in other words, no we do not get off the hook. At the very least, the book makes you think--it's a gripping quick read and very informative. ( )
1 rösta LisaMaria_C | Oct 5, 2013 |
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The life story of Paul Rusesabagina, the man whose heroism inspired the film Hotel Rwanda. As his country was torn apart by violence during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, hotel manager Rusesabagina--the "Oskar Schindler of Africa"--refused to bow to the madness that surrounded him. Confronting killers with a combination of diplomacy, flattery, and deception, he offered shelter to more than 12,000 members of the Tutsi clan and Hutu moderates, while homicidal mobs raged outside. This book explores what the film could not: the inner life of the man who became the most prominent public face of that terrible conflict. Rusesabagina tells his full story--the son of a rural farmer, the child of a mixed marriage, the career path which led him to become the first Rwandan manager of the Belgian-owned hotel--all of which contributed to his heroic actions in the face of horror.--From publisher description.

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