Great Books: A Getting to Know You Essay
“If geography creates culture, then the Rwandan mind is shaped like solid green waves… we expressed love to one another in the thousands of little daily actions that kept a rural African family together. She showed me how to take care of the baby goats and cows, and how to grind cassava into flour.” Paul Rusesabagina begins An Ordinary Man by illustrating his world when he was a child, describing how the hills roll in every direction, how his rural family functioned, and how his father’s words impacted him. Soon the book shifts direction radically, from comfortable to perilous, “I dreaded machetes. The Interahamwe were known to be extremely cruel with the people they chopped apart… The dark lust unleashed in Rwanda went beyond friendships and beyond politics and even hate itself—it had become killing for killing’s sake.” The buildup from happy beginning, to abysmal truth later on is gripping. An Ordinary Man is influential; it teaches a valuable lesson using articulate writing and a true story.
The Rwandan setting pulled me into a completely different world of villages and simplicity. I felt as if I was there with all of the people, harvesting their sweet potatoes and then cooking them later that night in a mud oven. I could almost smell the meal and taste the spices. Then as the story grew more and more morbid I began to feel for each of the characters and their hardships, nearly coming to tears when Paul Rusesabagina’s wife was beaten, and then sitting in jaw-dropped awe of General Bizimungu’s courage to threaten the Interahamwe, what a hero!
I felt heavy-hearted and renewed when I finished reading An Ordinary Man. I had come closer to feeling this world’s dark side. I wished that there was even more story to read when I finished the book, and so I became desirous of learning more about Paul Rusesabagina and the story that surrounds him, and the way he writes expands my vocabulary on nearly every page. And yet he writes clearly and simply, which I adore. His writing reminds me of my love for gripping and meaningful stories, and it makes me want to seek out more.
This book makes me want to visit Africa and experience the completely different culture and geography I’ve read all about. It influenced my independent reading book decision. I chose a book called Things Fall Apart, a book written by Chinua Achebe (an African himself), with its setting in an olden village of South Africa. I also watched the movie called Hotel Rwanda that is based on Rusesabagina’s story. The movie misses a lot, but it is still a wonderful illustration of what some of the events of the Rwandan Genocide looked like. I wanted an even more clear view on what this horror looked like. I will be going back and rereading this book, so that the story can be reinforced in my mind, and so that I can pick up on more of the details.
This is a book worth reading, I highly recommend it. An Ordinary Man conveys an indelible life lesson about the power of words. Its plot will have your hands glued to the book, because it is phenomenally written. The way I think has been forever changed. I never want to turn my back to something so horrible as the Rwandan Genocide.