"Deogratias Niyizonkiza, a 24-year-old man who had narrowly survived a genocide in two countries and suddenly in 1994 found himself on a flight to a place he had only heard ofAmerica." Hari has questions:
[T]he tale has less-neat edges that Kidder can't smooth. Deogratias seems to have come to terms with his memories of the genocide by convincing himself that the populations of both countries were innocent, and even the perpetratorswho remain faceless and nameless and off-stage for virtually the entire narrativewere simply "misled." They didn't know what they were doing; they were deceived. But this was a grassroots genocide, stoked by governments but carried outwith horrific efficiencyby ordinary people. Those rows of bodies I looked at were carved up by their neighbors, who were staring them in the face. It's hard for the reader to escape the conclusion that Deogratias can live with what happened and build his hospital and do good only by lying to himself about the nature of the recent past.
This raises the chewy problem of why Kidder is telling this story. Is it primarily an inspirational tale of an immigrant-made-good, a repudiation of Lou Dobbs-style bigotry? If so, his book succeeds 10 times over in an uncomplicated way. Or does Kidder believe primarily in the need to record accurately what happened during the darkest moments in human history?
If this is his goal, then he issubtly, sympatheticallychiding his subject. Deogratias has placed a protective distortion at the heart of his story of the genocide: He has scrubbed it free of perpetrators. Kidder doesn't ask overtly if this delusion has a cost. By placing the cause of the genocide somewhere unreachably distantsomewhere beyond the decisions of the human beings who actually carried it outis Deogratias powerless to prevent it happening again?