Minnesota book groups against genocide around the world


I went to Rwanda in 2005. I spent two weeks traveling around the country. Alice Musabende, a young Rwandan, was my translator and guide. One night, sitting outside under a starry sky, I asked Alice what had happened to her and her family in April 1994, when genocide happened in Rwanda and nearly a million people perished.

On an April day her mother sent her on an errand to her cousin’s house. When Alice returned the next morning, she discovered the bodies of her grandparents, her mother and father, her 12-year-old sister, and her 9-year-old and 2-year-old brothers.

Alice is an orphan of genocide.

Her story broke my heart and gave me a commitment to take action. I formed the organization World Without Genocide a few months later, with a mission to protect innocent people, prevent genocide, prosecute perpetrators and remember those whose lives and cultures have been destroyed by genocide.

Ellen Kennedy recommends these books by women authors to increase your understanding of the politics of genocide in the world:
The Diary of Anne Frank
Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife by Francine Prose
A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Disappeared by Kim Echlin

What’s on your bookshelf? Send us 450 words about your booklife, plus your list of five related books by women authors. editor@womenspress.com.

The first step in genocide prevention is to learn about genocide, past and present. World Without Genocide has established monthly book clubs throughout the metro area. We read books about the Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, Congo, Bosnia, Cambodia. We read from many genres-history, memoir, fiction, journalists’ accounts, diaries, essays and historical fiction.

Why not read only history books to learn about genocide? And why read fiction on this subject? Fiction allows us to enter into the imagined lives and worlds of people in the stories. A recent study in psychology found that people who read fiction have greater empathy with others’ situations than people who read only nonfiction.

Yet reading only fiction doesn’t ground us adequately or accurately in reality so we read widely across genres. We also intentionally read books written by women. Gender-based violence has become a tool of genocide, a weapon used to break apart families, communities and societies. We want to ‘hear’ women’s voices as witnesses and survivors in diaries, memoirs and journalism, and in the imagined settings of fiction.

Our book clubs began with the world’s most well-known diary: “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Author Francine Prose’s new book, “Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife,” gave us insight and explanation into the circumstances surrounding young Anne’s writing and the subsequent creation of the play and movie. We recently read journalist Samantha Power’s Pulitzer prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” a brilliant critique of America’s failure to act in the face of genocide, from Armenia to Rwanda.

This fall we’ll read a wonderful memoir by Hashima Bashir, “Tears of the Desert,” about her happy childhood in Sudan’s Darfur region, her brutalization during the current genocide in that area, and her subsequent efforts to rebuild her life and raise awareness about the conflict. Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” is on our spring schedule, and next summer “The Disappeared,” by Kim Echlin, about the Cambodian genocide.

Through memoir, diary, journalism and fiction, these women writers-and the male authors whose work we also read-teach us about the world’s greatest crime, genocide. We learn not only about the horrors, but also about courage, compassion and hope for a brighter world.

Ellen Kennedy is the executive director of World Without Genocide. You are invited to join the conversation. To sign up for a book club contact: info@worldwithoutgenocide.org, www.worldwithoutgenocide.org