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"With What Remains" by Leslie Bilinda
I bought this book from Amazon prior to our holiday in Rwanda and Madagascar. All the books I managed to find set in Rwanda apart from, 'Baking Cakes in Kigali' were centred around the Genocide in 1994. I wasn't able to find any books set in Madagascar which is a bit sad. If I was a more talented writer I might have had a try but I know my limitations! This book was suggested by Amazon when I ordered " An Ordinary Man" which I have reviewed on here previously. Initially I wasn't convinced but as it was only a couple of quid I thought I'd give it a try.
The author was not a writer by profession. She was an ordinary Scottish young girl who went to Rwanda as a health worker early in the 1990s. She taught herself Kinyarwandan and worked closely with local Rwandan people. She ended up marrying a Rwandan teacher who was a Tutsi and strong Christian but sadly they were having a few problems so Lesley decided to have a bit of time away on holiday with her sister in Kenya.
While she was in Kenya the violence erupted in Rwanda and the 800,000 people we now know were slaughtered. During this time Lesley made frantic phone calls to anyone she thought might be able to help from the British Consul through to local church contacts but she was able to do nothing, heard nothing and since the genocide still has no idea what happened to her husband.
Apparently not long after 1994 when she was still shocked, angry and traumatised she wrote her first book 'Colour of Darkness'. This is more than a follow up book, it tells the story of her journey since 1994, how she has come to terms with what happened, how some things are still painful but now she is able to accept that they happened and move on with her life. This book is the written account of her feelings and experiences when she returned to Rwanda with a film crew to make a documentary about her search for her husband's killers so that she could finally know what happened and possible even forgive them for what they did.
Incidentally this documentary can be seen in part on YouTube; it is called 'Hunting My Husband's Killers' which Bilinda says 'is an honest and sensitive portrayal of my turbulent and disturbing search'. The documentary was made by Journeyman Pictures and is 51 minutes long the link to the first part is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rf6L-qyZYfk. I have watched this first part and by fishing around I did find the next parts but it was a bit of a faff . However having read the book and seen the documentary in parts I can't help but be impressed at the strength of character of the author throughout.
I found the book was written in a very easy conversational style. It was as though Lesley Bilinda was speaking to you, the reader and sharing her thoughts and experiences personally with you. The documentary comes over in the same way. At times I almost felt we were intruding as she did share some very personal feelings in the book. In one way that was positive but sometimes i felt a little uncomfortable with being quite so involved.
Lesley Bilinda is a strong Christian and a lot of her beliefs and responses come from her strong commitment to her faith. I am not a great believer and I found her strength admoirable and that she could still have the strong belief in spite of what happened to Rwanda, her husband and to her as a result I found quite astonishing.
I loved the fact that she had included photographs in the book as it gave a really good visual backup to the story she was telling. The photos ranged from those of her and her husband Charles in happier times through to those of Lesley interviewing prisoners in Butare prison and some of the Genocide memorial centres around the country. I am so relieved that we visited the one in Kigali as some are far more harrowing and have piles of skulls and washing lines full of clothes of the victims; others have the bodies preserved in lime where they were killed. I am not sure I would have coped emotionally with visiting the one with the actual bodies left as they were preserved.
The book can be read in so many ways. Firstly it is a physical journey across Rwanda described by someone who has a feel for the country and its people. I enjoyed this element and when we were in Rwanda I was able to recognise places she has written about which was nice. Secondly it is a story of love, marriage and also betrayal Lesley went through a huge range of emotional experiences during her time in Rwanda and again when she came back to do this documentary written about in this book.
I think there is a danger with a book like this to become self engrossed and feel like the world is against you. I can't imagine what I might feel if my husband had been killed. What would I like to do to the killers? Would I forgive them or want some awful painful death inflicted upon them? I would suspect it might be the latter and woe betides anyone who dared harm a hair on my children's heads. Lesley says that she had to forgive these killers as the alternative would be to get caught up in a vice of hatred. It is true that anger and hatred can eat you up and if you can forgive it releases you of some emotional baggage but that is something easy to say and VERY hard to do. I have to admire the author for her honest and open sharing of her innermost feelings without this becoming too much like sitting in a counselling sharing session.
Bilinda says that she feels "Forgiveness says ' I am no longer in your power...I will not allow your choice of self-destruction to destroy me also...To remain in bitterness and resentment would also destroy me'." She also tries to understand why the killer 'the bad guys' acted as they did. Would she have acted in the same way had she been brought up in Rwanda and been faced with the same situation? She says these people are still human even though their actions she cannot in any way condone. The whole of the last chapter discusses her feelings about forgiveness and how it may help her, would the killers actually care that she had forgiven them and so much more.
On another level I learned a lot about Rwanda from the book. I had heard a little about the 'gacaca' ( pronounce gachacha) courts held to solve problems in the villages when I read 'An OrdinaryMan' and once again in this book Bilinda talks of how these courts have been reinstated as a way of having those who killed in the genocide forgiven by those who they wronged by the killings. If it works and it does seem to be working then this is a big step in the right direction. I also learned that many Tutsi people who fled in1959 returned in the time of the genocide as a highly motivated and well disciplined fighting force. Many fled as they advanced and left their homes which were then taken over by these Tutsi and moderate Hutus. Sadly many innocent families lost their homes and everything as a result and there has been nothing done about this. Naturally this has caused considerable ill feeling and Lesley had many friends who had this happen to in Rwanda, they lost everything.
I think the thing that I take away from reading this book is how very humble the author is about here experiences and indeed her talents. She speaks both French and Kinyarwandan to a level that she was able to question and translate conversations for the film which is fairly impressive in my view.
Lesley Bilinda tells us that when she went to Rwanda initially she was very young, naive, happy and carefree, optimistic and enthusiastic. In the fifteen years that had gone between she had been through so much pain, loneliness, rejection, betrayal and loss and these had impacted upon her life and changed her in so many ways.
She says she is different now, not better or worse just different. "Life, with all its fullness, richness and pain, has changed me." She speaks too, of her feelings for Rwanda and even though she could never now make it her home she finds the" people continue to inspire, humble and challenge me. My relationship with that country has brought me the greatest pain and the greatest joy of my life."
I had mixed feeling about buying this book but despite being a non Christian I found Bilinda an inspiration. There were times when I found her revelations about her feeling a bit too personal but inthe end I couldn't help but be impressed by her inner strength and the genuine and very humble way hse shared her story.
If you have any interest in what went on in Rwanda in 1994 and what has happened since then this is a book worth reading. It is also worth reading is you are interested in the idea of forgiveness by victims towards their perpetrators and these people coming face to face and talking about how they feel etc. This is a book that can be read on different levels depending on what your interest is. If you are a believer in God then you might find Bilinda's discussion about forgiveness and her beliefs an interesting insight.
I found this a more soul searching and interesting book than I thought I would. I enjoyed the journey around Rwanda and found learning about the different 'gacaca' courts and what had happened to those who survived the genocide to be of most interest to me.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
Ten years ago Lesley Bilinda wrote the acclaimed book The Colour of Darkness, a personal account of the horrors of the Rwandan genocide in which she lost her husband Charles. For a decade she has lived with no knowledge of how Charles died, or the identity of his killers.She returned to Rwanda last year, with a documentary film crew in tow, to uncover the truth. But in between traumatic encounters with the men she suspected responsible for his death, a very different truth emerged - Charles had been having an affair before and during their marriage.This beautifully-written and moving story charts Lesley's physical and emotional journey through a post-genocide Rwanda still shrouded in deceit and confusion. Despite the painful revelations, she gained a new sense of freedom from knowing the truth, and a fresh belief in herself and in God.