Posts Tagged ‘Rwanda’

Notes towards a taxonomy of the novels of John le Carré

October 18, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 18, 2016

The British author John le Carré has written 23 novels, according to Wikipedia, of which I’ve read about two-thirds. If one were to draw a Venn diagram of le Carré’s oeuvre, there would be two main “bubbles,” or categories: Those in which the protagonist is a professional spy and those in which she or he is not.

An example of the former would be all of the so-called George Smiley novels, of which Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is perhaps best known: Smiley devotes his entire career to British intelligence. An example of the latter would be many of le Carré’s other books, such as two of my favorite novels by him: 1993’s The Night Manager, in which a hotel manager is drafted for an operation targeting illicit international arms dealers, and 2001’s The Constant Gardener, in which an ordinary British diplomat begins to uncover shady doings by a multinational company after the death of his unfaithful wife.

Several other le Carré books feature amateurs who dally in espionage. There’s The Russia House (1989), wherein a British publisher becomes a courier for a spy ring; The Little Drummer Girl (1983), in which a radical English actress is recruited to locate a Palestinian terrorist; and Our Kind of Traitor (2010), in which a professional London couple decides to help a Russian money launderer and his family defect to England.

And what, you may ask, of the overlapping between the two bubbles? This area is dedicated to two kinds of novels. One type has multiple leading characters, some of whom are professional spies and some of whom are not; the other, a leading character whose status is nebulous or transitional.

In The Tailor of Panama, there are two main characters: The eponymous tailor and the duplicitous British spy who recruits him. Obviously, this homage to Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana belongs to the first type, as does A Most Wanted Man, with its multiple characters, some intelligence professionals and others (more or less) ordinary individuals. A Perfect Spy tracks its main character, Magnus Pym, from childhood through a key episode in his adulthood; this book, of course, belongs to the second type.

I’ll touch upon this le Carré taxonomy later this week…

Extraordinary circumstances prompt an ordinary man to stand against genocide in the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’

December 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 3, 2015

Hotel Rwanda, the 2004 drama that Terry George directed and co-wrote with Keir Pearson, is a movie that is tempting to look away from. It concerns Rwanda’s genocidal 1994 civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, a conflict in which approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered — more than a tenth of the nation’s population at the time. (In preparing this blog post, I saw one estimate that put the casualties at more than 1 million dead.)

I purchased a copy of the DVD in 2012 after listening to an audio version of An Ordinary Mana memoir about the genocide, but not until last week did I watch the movie. It stars Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina, who sheltered about 1,200 refugees from the genocide at the luxury hotel he managed in the Rwanda capital of Kigali. The real-life Rusesabagina co-wrote a memoir with Tom Zellner that was published three years after Hotel Rwanda was released, although his story inspired the movie; he himself served as a consultant for the picture.

Somewhat to my surprise, I found Hotel Rwanda to be a thoroughly watchable movie, despite the relentlessly grim true-life circumstances that frame the story. The script focuses on Rusesabagina’s efforts to navigate the perils of the civil conflict that erupts suddenly the morning after Rwanda’s president dies when his plane is shot down. We see Rusesabagina — a Hutu hotel manager, husband and father whose wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), is a Tutsi — negotiate with genocidal Interahamwe militia members, a laissez-faire Rwanda army general and various foreigners.

The latter group wield increasingly little influence on the bloody events that are decimating Rwanda, thanks largely to international apathy about what the world mostly views as a faraway slaughter involving inconsequential African peasants. One of the movie’s most poignant sequences come as foreign powers evacuate their citizens, a clear signal that they will do nothing to prevent further violence.

Hotel Rwanda occasionally comes off as preachy, mainly due to a few clunky-sounding speeches that George and Pearson put in the mouths of Nick Nolte, who plays a Canadian colonel leading a detachment of United Nations soldiers, and Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a righteous journalist who trusts neither himself nor the West to do the right thing. Thankfully, the movie is more interested in showing Rusesabagina and his wife react to and try to survive the ethnic purge that is being conducted right outside the gates of the Hotel Mille Collines in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

Read the rest of this entry »

Begging the question: Obama and Libya

December 6, 2012

Last night I finished reading “Obama’s Way,” a lengthy feature on Barack Obama, the Libyan military intervention and the president’s decision-making process. Michael Lewis’ article has a publication date of Oct. 5 of this year, so I am definitely behind the curve on this; Vanity Fair’s nearly 14,000-word opus was meant to make a big pre-election splash.

I don’t think Lewis breaks any major news in his story. Rather, he fills in some details. Based on news accounts as well as Mark Bowden’s book The Finish (which ironically was published after Lewis’ piece), I’ve always considered Obama to be a very deliberate, cool and calculating decision-maker, despite the many forces that frequently put competing claims on the president.

That’s just what Lewis portrays. And he adds numerous colorful details, some pulled from one or more flights aboard Air Force One, others from at least one visit to Obama’s favored work and living spaces at the White House, and still more from one of the president’s nigh-legendary hard-fought, sharp-elbowed recreational basketball games.

One of the most fascinating things in the article comes around the two-thirds point, as Lewis gives a comprehensive (and incredibly divergent) account of two March 15, 2011, meetings between Obama and his security team. Both gatherings concerned the Libyan civil war and how, if at all, the United States should respond to it.

Early on, the first meeting went off track. The two options on the table were establishing a no-fly zone over Libya and doing nothing. Read the rest of this entry »

‘An Ordinary Man’ comes face to face with genocide in harrowing memoir

August 23, 2012

In 1994, Paul Rusesabagina was managing a luxury hotel in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. As civil war broke out and ethnic tensions were ratcheted up by both the rebels and the corrupt government, Rusesabagina sought to maintain a normal life for himself, his family, his employees and his guests.

But on April 6, the president’s plane was shot down, and all hell broke loose. The nightmarish aftermath of that assassination is detailed in gripping fashion by Rusesabagina and co-author Tom Zoellner in the 2007 memoir An Ordinary Man.

The events of spring 1994 are today known as the Rwandan genocide. Perhaps 800,000 men, women and children were slaughtered over the course of three bloody months. Many victims were of the Tutsi ethnic minority; others were members of the much larger Hutu ethnic group who were targeted for trying to protect their fellow Rwandans from violence. As much as three-quarters of the Tutsi population were murdered.

The killers and victims were often acquainted. One widely listened-to radio station dehumanized Tutsis and their sympathizers by repeatedly calling them cockroaches. Once the killings began, Rusesabagina writes, the station would broadcast minute-to-minute reports as certain targets were hunted down in the streets.

In a report on Rwanda 10 years after the killings, The Economist — which estimated that between 500,000 and 800,000 died — wrote: “It was perhaps the fastest genocide in history, although the killers were mostly armed, not with guns or poison gas, but with farm tools.” Read the rest of this entry »

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