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on 22 March 2014
Seeing as it is twenty years ago since one of the worst genocides the world has ever witnessed. The book is especially poignant describing the horror and brutality of that time in history.
The story revolves around a Hotel in the capital of Rwanda frequented by government dignitaries, foreign journalists and prostitutes.
When the genocide breaks out, the hotel soon becomes a harbinger for Tutsis desperate to escape the murder.
The book details the various people involved in the genocide and those who protected those vulnerable.
The book is especially graphic in its depictions of the hutu's treatment of tutsi women who were seen as being responsible for the breeding of the tutsi population and were doubly scrutinised, enduring gang rape and infection with disease, especially A.I.D.S which was sporadic in Rwandan society.
The book also centres around the A.I.D.S epidemic which was prevalent in all echelons of Rwanda life. Infecting the population from the lower classes right up to the Presidency.
When the killing spree took broke out the Hutu militia used AIDS as a way of ethnically cleansing the country of 'cockroaches' which the Tutsis were perceived as being by the Hutus.
I see this book as being a realistic and accurate depiction of the genocide that took place. My only gripe with the book, is that it tended to be a bit one dimensional with no real character description so in my opinion no main character stood out. In fact the book came out as being more of a report on Rwanda than a novel.
Despite this gripe A Sunday At The Pool In Kigali is an accurate depiction of the horror of the genocide in Rwanda and the main people involved.
A deserved 8/10
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 28 October 2013
If this book were a film, it would carry warnings. It is shocking and horrible in parts, but that is absolutely how it should be. No novel can do justice to the dreadful events during the Rwandan genocide without making uncomfortable reading in places. Certainly there is no coy avoidance of the despicable crimes that were carried out - however there is also a lack of unnecessary gratuity. This is not one of those novels where you feel the author is partly revelling in the horror of it all.

Parts of the story are based on truth and the experiences of real people, including all the crimes described. It's unclear exactly how much is true and how much biographical. However I had sadly no difficulty believing this was an accurate depiction of what went on, as it tallied with what I know from visiting Rwanda. The violence committed is very difficult to comprehend - although it is described here in a very effective way. It's almost impossible to imagine how large numbers of ordinary people could behave in such a way to their own neighbours. An example of truth being stranger than fiction.

The novel centres on a Canadian journalist, living in Rwanda, who falls in love with a young Rwandan woman. Not long after, the genocide begins and tears apart the country they love. The first part is a little slow, with some sections explaining who is who and what is what that get a bit confusing and can be hard to read. The characters could have been introduced a bit more carefully to enable the reader to keep track of them better. However once the story gets going the pace picks up and it becomes easier to follow - although not easier to read, given the subject matter. Initially, the story focusses a lot on the AIDS epidemic - and there are few such vivid and painful descriptions of the impact of AIDS on individuals and communities in Africa.

As the tensions between ethnic groups escalate, the story moves on more to the impending doom. Readers will want to scream with frustration as they watch the build up to the final mass killings, full of missed opportunities for intervention and apathy by international powers that should have prevented it. Because the massacres didn't come out of nowhere - there were months of very clear warnings. The book shows this aspect of the events very clearly as well as telling the personal stories of some of those affected.

Although many of the scenes here are deeply upsetting, there are also more positive messages about the determination of people to carry on living life even in the worst of circumstances, and on how love can transform the lives of ordinary people. These prevent the book becoming unbearable and also stop it being a simple `shock-wallow' of a novel listing nasty things that happened.

It's a painful and uncomfortable read, but hard to put down and has an undeniable impact. It certainly makes you think about current and possible future conflicts that are unfolding in a similar way, and how the `western' world isn't always prepared to help as it should. As well as being a well written novel, you will certainly come away with the powerful conviction that nothing like this should be allowed to happen again in the world, and the sad suspicion that it already has and is.
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on 26 May 2009
I'd been meaning to read this book for a while and I am glad I finally did. I didn't know much about Rwanda and its Civil War and genocide. I'd heard the names Tutsi and Hutu before, but I couldn't tell you who slew who or why or anything else. I still can't tell you a lot about Rwandan history and with this ignorance comes a reluctance to make too many comments or pass any judgements, but I can at least tell you about this remarkable book. I can certainly tell you to go away and read it. Please do read it, you won't regret it.

I think the book has some incredibly interesting insights. About Africa; about our western civilisations and the parts we played in Rwanda's unfolding history and tragedy (in the whole of Africa for that matter); about human nature and how far people can fall: the atrocities they can commit; the unimaginable horror and brutality; the fact that many stood by passively and allowed these things to happen.

But more importantly, amid the unfolding horror, the book successfully captures through its protagonists, Valcourt and Gentille, a passion and love for life; for their friends and family and one for one another. They embrace life and continue to enjoy it, to search for some pleasure up until the very last minute.

And then there is the strength of forgiveness that comes across in the book. The fact that Gentille's teacher, Marie will adopt the children of the man who killed her husband - his friend who was a Hutu. The acceptance and understanding of the situation by some characters -mainly the victims; their clarity and their wisdom, whilst their persecutors fail to see, or sometimes even do see, but are forced to act terribly to secure their own survival.

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali is not only worth reading because it enlightens you a little about the history of Rwanda, it is also worth reading because it is a remarkable piece of literature that forces you to think and to see things in different ways. Books like these encourage me to go away and find out about injustices occurring right now in our present day: like Darfur. They encourage me to be aware of the bigger world out there and to sit up and take notice, not to turn a blind eye.
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on 26 June 2006
this is the only book I have read that has made me physically sick - but please, please don't let that put you off; you'd be missing one of the most incredible books that I have ever read dealing with the subject of civil war.

Courtmanche's story telling is vivid and disturbing, but to tiptoe around the violence of Rwanda's civil war would be a crime. We need to be reminded of the stark reality of what happened, and not distanced from the horror of genocide. The author's greatest triumph is perhaps the way he avoids the clinical separation and patronizing attitude that other writers have taken on the subject - his passion for Rwanda and its people shines through the text and is what makes it such an incredible book.
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on 5 January 2005
Gil Courtemanche has written an outstanding exposé of one of the worst - and most easily forgotten - atrocities of our time. It is a protest against glib answers, even against glib questions, and offers a devastating mirror to humanity.
Brutality has a brutalising effect on its victims and witnesses alike - and this comes across remarkably strongly in Courtemanche's stirring tale of snowballing hatred and apathy. The reader must, if he is honest, see himself both in Valcourt's valiant but ineffectual protests, and in the animal behaviour of those against whom his anger also surges.
War, rape, concupiscence, AIDS - this is no hymn to humanity, but an exposition of the fragility of the veneer which covers human baseness, and the ease which which it is shattered. The reader is subtly challenged to question his own values and sense of purpose - he cannot do otherwise.
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on 18 September 2003
I actually read this in one sitting - so drawn was I by the inexorable flow in the narrative. It builds in an utterly chilling way to its conclusion in the insanity that was rwanda in 1994. Amazing and humbling to believe that such a holocuast could occur in ones lifetime with the minimum of intervention or coverage. It is not just the subject matter that is bewitching though. The writing, the pace, the dialogue, the depth of characters all build into a rare and excellent work. Not one for reading for entertainment on holiday, but should be pretty much compulsive for anyone with an interest in people and events. stunning stuff.
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on 9 December 2004
First off this is a brilliant book. Even if you happen not to enjoy the plot and character development as much as I did, you should read it purely for the insight it offers into the horror that was Rwandan the genocide. Dont be put off if you know nothing more about this than what you saw on the news - neither did I! The author manages to convey in stomach-turning, sweat-inducing detail the full horror of the events that went on (as far as thats possible on paper), whilst still managing to keep a balanced veiw of both ethnic groups, never portraying the Hutus as monsters or the Tustsis as passive victims - indeed he highlights the fallacy of both these ethnic groups, as the main female character Gentille is officially Hutu, but her Tutsi appearance causes her to be a victim of the tragedy. The book also calls attention to the appalling indiffernce of foriegn officials, UN workers and diplomats who not only fled the carnage but failed to do the slightest to intervene in Kigali. If this is true as Courtemanche claims, this book should be read by them. On top of all this, the characters of the lovely, innocent Gentille, and the disillusioned Canadian Valcourt, whose love gives each other a reason to live, and stay in Kigali despite the unfolding disaster, as well as the courage and humour of their many friends, make the tragedy all the more harrowing when it happens, as you imageing the machetes thudding into your own loved one's bodies. If you're not easily squeemish, and have any sort of conscience, read this. Now.
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on 3 November 2003
Gil Courtemnache's novel is a superb book. One might argue that it is to "thin" on the genocide but this book is not about holocaust, it is a book about love that raises above hell. The author's views on UN and NGO is not politically correct but courageously right.
Wonderfully moving book that makes you stop and think.
On a lesser note, I was not too impressed by the translation.
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on 15 November 2012
it may not be fair for me to be writing this review yet as i am only half way through but i just needed to share the impact this book is having on me.
i love africa and this book has captured the beauty and the brutality reducing me to a sobbing wreck as memories of my visits there echo through me. this needs to be on school curriculums. i am going to finish reading through my tears and i will get back to you with my final thoughts.
please buy conflict free technology folks.
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on 29 March 2010
Bought this book for my book club read of the month. When I learned what the subject matter was my heart sank. Would it be gory,sensationalised, depressing?
Well, now I have read it I am glad I did. Although it is basically a love story, it also provides chilling insights into the psyche of the people involved in the genocide (from Belgian colonists to the native Rwandans). Very thought provoking.
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