Between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people were killed during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. College student Immaculée Ilibagiza survived by hiding with eight other women in a pastor’s bathroom for 91 days. The women were literally piled on top of each other in a bathroom smaller than a walk in closet. With only intermittent access to food, Immaculée’s weight dropped to 65 pounds. The pastor’s home was repeatedly searched and Immaculée could hear the braying death squads through the walls. Yet she survived when so many others didn’t.
The book begins by describing her childhood, her middle class family, and how the ongoing conflict between Hutus and Tutsis impacted her early life. By the end of the book, many of those Immaculée loved have been killed and some of those she thought she could trust have blood on their hands.
At times the book felt a touch simplistic. Immaculée’s family were described as flawless in the first few chapters and her forgiveness of those who participated in the genocide seems to come without any internal struggle. However, the pastor who saved Immaculée was not the saintly hero one might expect- the intense propaganda put forth by militant Hutus seemed to effect even her rescuer who began to speak of how he would help them escape when all the Tutsis were dead. Pull no punches scenes like this make the book well worth reading for those interested in the Rwandan genocide.
Immaculée is a devout Catholic and regularly speaks to Catholic/Christian groups. She prays throughout her time in hiding and more than once feels God leading her down the right path. I think the story is strong enough to interest people of all and no religious faiths, but the religious slant may be a deal breaker for some would be readers.