I am not an emotional person. I have never actually cried during a novel. That is until I read “Left To Tell” by Immaculée Ilibagiza. This compelling autobiography tells of Ilibagiza’s struggle through the horrific Rwandan genocide and how she was spared by God, or “left to tell.” It’s ironic, however, that an actual survivor of the genocide would even be willing to talk about her experience. But it is clear from reading Ilibagiza’s account that she intended to write “Left To Tell” to help heal the hearts of other Rwandan survivors as well as heal her own wounds.
Throughout the book, Ilibagiza follows a common theme of forgiveness, which she preaches is the key to overcoming sorrow, anger and revenge. She explains that once you have forgiven, your burden for revenge is lifted and you are able to go on with your life. That’s some pretty heavy knowledge for a 22-year-old. Miraculously, Ilibagiza even forgives the man who was in charge of killing her whole village! “Forgiveness is all I have to offer,” she replies simply.
Before the genocide, Ilibagiza, her parents and her three brothers live in the lush countryside of Rwanda. Ilibagiza fondly recounts her childhood memories in the village of Mataba. She tells stories of her supportive parents, her jovial brothers and her close friends in the first few chapters.
In 1994, when Ilibagiza is attending the University of Butare, the genocide begins. Ilibagiza flees to the village pastor under her dad’s orders. She recounts in the novel that the pastor leads her and six other women into a 3-by-4-foot bathroom to hide from the killers. Ilibagiza stays in hiding for three months, and over those three months, she becomes determined to survive and share her story with the world.
One of the most compelling things about “Left To Tell” was Ilibagiza’s stunning faith in God throughout the book. Most of us go to Mass every Sunday and pray before we eat dinner, but Ilibagiza’s faith was completely different in that she put her total trust in God and prayed to him all the time, not just on special occasions. This was one of the things that made “Left To Tell” so spectacular.
In addition to Ilibagiza’s stunning faith in God, she also learns to forgive the murderers for their horrific doings. This act makes the whole novel seem even more unbelievable because this woman, who is in her late 20s, absolves people who murdered millions. Nowadays, forgiveness is hard to come by. Everyday, you see people on the news who have lost someone to homicide. Some are sobbing, while others shake their fists at the camera and promise to sue or kill the murderer themselves. Compared to our society today, Ilibagiza’s forgiveness is astonishing.
The writing style of “Left To Tell” is very realistic, but unfortunately it lacks figurative language. Although I cut Ilibagiza some slack because English is her third language, the writing was rather elementary in some spots. In the novel, Ilibagiza is quick to mention the name of each village, school and friend, but she doesn’t usually describe them. However, Ilibagiza describes her family in vast amounts of detail, which helped me really become part of her family. Despite Ilibagiza’s writing style, the events and order of the book is fantastic. It runs quite smoothly, and I never had to stop to figure out what was going on. It was also a quick, easy and eye-opening read.
If you are a person of strong religious faith or a person who was fascinated by large historical events, “Left to Tell” is a great read. My mother was enthralled by this book because she found Ilibagiza’s faith awe-inspiring, while I was taken in by this book because I was shocked at how recent and horrific the genocide was. Either way, a reader with an open mind and tissue box on hand will most definitely enjoy Ilibagiza’s account of the Rwandan holocaust.
So if you want to know what happens to Ilibagiza, her family and her country, you’ll have to read “Left To Tell” by Immaculee Ilibagiza.
Morgan Cooper is an eighth-grader at The Academy of the Holy Names