The best books about Rwanda

6 authors have picked their favorite books about Rwanda and why they recommend each book.

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Greenmantle

By John Buchan,

Book cover of Greenmantle

John Buchan served in the War Propaganda Bureau during WWI, crafting press releases that sought to preserve public morale against the terrible losses on the Western Front. Already a successful novelist, he created a new character named Richard Hannay who starred in his 1915 adventure thriller The Thirty Nine Steps. Hannay was so popular that Buchan revived him for a 1916 sequel set in the Ottoman Empire that proved an enduring classic: Greenmantle. Through his work in intelligence and propaganda, Buchan was aware of British war planners’ concerns that the Ottoman call for jihad that followed their declaration of war might provoke colonial Muslims to rise against the Entente Powers in India, Egypt, North Africa, and the Caucasus. He captured British fears of an Ottoman-inspired jihad inflaming Indian Muslims with the memorably Orientalist line: “There is a dry wind blowing through the East, and the parched grasses wait the spar.…


Who am I?

As a professional historian of the Middle East, I’ve long recognized WWI as a vital turning point in the region’s history, when the ancient Ottoman Empire fell and the modern states of the Middle East took its place. Based in Oxford, I am particularly aware of this university’s role in shaping so many of those whose book captured the British experience of the Ottoman Front. But there’s also an element of family history behind my fascination, as in following the story of my great-uncle’s death in Gallipoli in 1915, I came to appreciate the magnitude of sacrifice suffered by all sides in the Great War in the Middle East.


I wrote...

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

By Eugene Rogan,

Book cover of The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

What is my book about?

By 1914 the powers of Europe were sliding inexorably toward war, and they pulled the Middle East along with them into one of the most destructive conflicts in human history. In The Fall of the Ottomans, award-winning historian Eugene Rogan brings the First World War and its immediate aftermath in the Middle East to vivid life, uncovering the often ignored story of the region's crucial role in the conflict. Unlike the static killing fields of the Western Front, the war in the Middle East was fast-moving and unpredictable, with the Turks inflicting decisive defeats on the Entente in Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, and Gaza before the tide of battle turned in the Allies' favor. The postwar settlement led to the partition of Ottoman lands, laying the groundwork for the ongoing conflicts that continue to plague the modern Arab world. A sweeping narrative of battles and political intrigue from Gallipoli to Arabia, The Fall of the Ottomans is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the Great War and the making of the modern Middle East.

The Rwanda Crisis

By Gérard Prunier,

Book cover of The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide

So many books have been written about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda since this came out, but for me it still effortlessly holds its own: clear, accessible, immensely insightful in the way it traces cause and effect. Make sure you buy the second edition, though, as French historian Prunier revised some key views over the years, including his opinion on who brought down the plane in which two African presidents died – the incident that triggered the genocide. The book is the perfect companion piece for Prunier’s follow-up tome, which pans back to examine not just Rwanda but the entire Great Lakes region during the turbulent post-genocide years: “From Genocide to Continental War. The “Congolese” Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa.” 


Who am I?

After working as a foreign correspondent in Italy and France I was sent by Reuters news agency to Cote d’Ivoire and what was then Zaire, the latter posting coinciding with the shocking start of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It was the kind of assignment you don’t forget, and when I moved to the Financial Times I continued following the larger-than-life dramas unfolding in Africa’s Great Lakes region. I’ve now written five books, the first – In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz - about Mobutu Sese Seko's imprint on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the latest – Do Not Disturb - looking at personalities and events I first started writing about a quarter of a century ago. You keep going back.


I wrote...

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

By Michela Wrong,

Book cover of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

What is my book about?

A real-life murder and spy thriller set in central Africa. Do Not Disturb uses the lurid assassination of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s exiled former spy chief, to unpick the story of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the movement that went from united guerrilla group to unhappy post-genocide government, with one man – Paul Kagame – emerging as a ruthless despot, ready to eliminate all those who stand in his way. Kagame's victims include his old friend Karegeya, strangled in the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg on his orders. This is a story about an African revolution gone bad, but it’s also a tale of treachery amongst friends, for the founders of the RPF attended school together, learned how to fight at one anothers’ sides, and made speeches at each others’ weddings. The personal IS the political in this slow-motion African tragedy.

God Sleeps in Rwanda

By Joseph Sebarenzi, Laura Mullane,

Book cover of God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation

The author, a Tutsi genocide survivor, was once a young Rwandan politician who deeply admired Paul Kagame and seemed destined for prominent public office. Instead, from his position as parliamentary speaker, he watched as his hero steadily emasculated the judiciary, undermined the country’s Hutu president – a symbol of ethnic reconciliation - and sabotaged parliamentary democracy itself,  eventually fleeing the country when his own life was threatened. His book not only offers great insights into the workings of village life in a tiny African country traumatized by its violent past, it’s a step-by-step analysis of how a dictatorship takes cynical, relentless hold.


Who am I?

After working as a foreign correspondent in Italy and France I was sent by Reuters news agency to Cote d’Ivoire and what was then Zaire, the latter posting coinciding with the shocking start of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It was the kind of assignment you don’t forget, and when I moved to the Financial Times I continued following the larger-than-life dramas unfolding in Africa’s Great Lakes region. I’ve now written five books, the first – In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz - about Mobutu Sese Seko's imprint on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the latest – Do Not Disturb - looking at personalities and events I first started writing about a quarter of a century ago. You keep going back.


I wrote...

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

By Michela Wrong,

Book cover of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

What is my book about?

A real-life murder and spy thriller set in central Africa. Do Not Disturb uses the lurid assassination of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s exiled former spy chief, to unpick the story of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the movement that went from united guerrilla group to unhappy post-genocide government, with one man – Paul Kagame – emerging as a ruthless despot, ready to eliminate all those who stand in his way. Kagame's victims include his old friend Karegeya, strangled in the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg on his orders. This is a story about an African revolution gone bad, but it’s also a tale of treachery amongst friends, for the founders of the RPF attended school together, learned how to fight at one anothers’ sides, and made speeches at each others’ weddings. The personal IS the political in this slow-motion African tragedy.

When Victims Become Killers

By Mahmood Mamdani,

Book cover of When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda

This influential book on the Rwandan genocide presents a nuanced analysis of how extreme violence can arise in postcolonial contexts. Through this and other writings, Mamdani has made important contributions to the study of violence, imperialism, and postcolonialism.

Who am I?

I am a biblical scholar who has become a historian of violence because I could no longer ignore the realities of the present or my own past. I write of violence for my childhood self, who was bullied for a decade and used to run away from school.  I write of it for my grandfather, who was born of exploitation.  I write of it for my African-American wife and daughter, in the hopes that I might contribute to the elimination of hierarchies that threaten their dignity and sometimes their lives.  Doing this work is not just intellectual for me—it is a memorialization and a ritual of healing. 


I wrote...

Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

By T.M. Lemos,

Book cover of Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

What is my book about?

In the first book-length work ever written on personhood in ancient Israel, I reveal widespread intersections between violence and personhood in this society and the wider region. Relations of domination and subordination were incredibly important to the culture of ancient Israel, with these relations often determining the boundaries of personhood itself. Personhood was malleable—it could be and was violently erased in many social contexts. This study exposes a violence-personhood-masculinity nexus in which domination allowed those in control to animalize and brutalize the bodies of subordinates.

Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You

By Hanna Jansen,

Book cover of Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You

This is a beautifully written account of how 8-year-old Jeanne d'Arc Umubyeyi (Dédé) escaped the 1994 massacre of the Tutsi ethnic group at the hands of the Huti tribe. Jeanne was the only member of her family to survive. The horror of what she went through is vividly recounted in Jeanne’s words and those of her adoptive mother Hanna Jansen, who adopted her and brought her to Germany. 

It is a very powerful, true, story. I had heard of the Rwandan massacre, but knew little about it till I read this novel. 

I love the book and have re-read it several times. Young adults will identify strongly with both Jeanne and Hanna.


Who am I?

My maternal great-grandparents were Irish immigrants. My paternal grandfather left Liverpool in the late 19th century to go to Australia. I’d love to know their children’s stories! Some of the families I visited as a social worker (mid-1960s) were immigrants, struggling to make sense of a new language and a new culture. I met a child who had come here alone as an illegal immigrant and had been a house slave until the social services settled her with a foster family. I met author Hanna Jansen and her many adopted children from war-torn countries. Fiction gives us many powerful stories about children forced to flee from their homes because of war, tyranny, hunger, poverty, natural disasters.


I wrote...

The Girl Who Saw Lions

By Berlie W. Doherty,

Book cover of The Girl Who Saw Lions

What is my book about?

"Be strong, my Abela." These are the last words of Abela's mother in their HIV/Aids stricken African village, where it seems that to live or to die, to be sick or to be healthy, is just a matter of chance. It takes all 8-year-old Abela's strength to survive her Uncle Thomas's scheming to get her to London, where she becomes a house slave. but what will be her fate as an illegal immigrant? Abela’s story is interwoven with that of 13-year-old Rosa, in England, who is jealous and unhappy when her mother tells her she wants to adopt an orphan.

 … this latest Doherty title is a heartbreaking yet ultimately hopeful examination of HIV/Aids, child trafficking, and adoption. (Season Highlight) ― The Bookseller

Left to Tell

By Immaculée Ilibagiza,

Book cover of Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

Women in Africa like Phiona and Immaculee are often treated as second-class citizens, which is what makes this book even more encouraging. Ilibagiza lost most of her family during the Rwandan genocide. She survived only after hiding with seven other women for 91 days in a local priest’s bathroom. She eventually found the strength in her heart to forgive those who killed the people closest to her and this compelling story of that spiritual journey defines her as a role model for every woman and man in her still-healing country.


Who am I?

For most of my life I have been fascinated by Africa, but I could never figure out a good reason to go there. Then one day in 2010 while delivering a book talk in North Carolina, a gentleman approached me afterward saying that he’d read a brief item in a missionary newsletter that morning and he thought it might make “a good story” for me. Six months later, I was on a flight to Uganda and that “good story” was born as a magazine piece before evolving into a book and finally in 2016 into a Disney movie. I have since traveled to Africa many times and it is a magical place, my home away from home.  


I wrote...

The Queen of Katwe: One Girl's Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion

By Tim Crothers,

Book cover of The Queen of Katwe: One Girl's Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion

What is my book about?

To be African is to be an underdog in the world. To be Ugandan is to be an underdog in Africa. To be from Katwe is to be an underdog in Uganda. To be a girl is to be an underdog in Katwe.

Phiona Mutesi is the ultimate underdog. Growing up in Kampala’s Katwe slum, she lost her father to AIDS as a young child and dropped out of school to sell maize on the streets. She did not know how to read or write when a former Ugandan war refugee turned missionary, Robert Katende, introduced Phiona to chess, a game so foreign to her that there is no word for it in her native language. Katende quickly realized that Phiona had an innate talent for the game and after a few years, against all odds, Katende would coach Phiona to become an international chess champion.

The Year of the Gorilla

By George B. Schaller,

Book cover of The Year of the Gorilla

George Schaller’s pioneering popular Year of the Gorilla, set in Rwanda, is part history, travelogue, and accessible behavioral biology. This book was my model for how to write about my own seven summers living with killer whales off northern Vancouver Island, Canada. Travelling with wife Kay, Schaller in his mid-20s was among the first to get into the field with primates when few even considered it. Rich with stories, his book included his own beautiful line drawings of gorillas and tantalising maps. The story uncovers a misty kingdom—he climbed the volcanoes—as much as revealing the intimate details of the gorillas, with their food gathering, nest-building, relationships, their emotional lives. This book has human and gorilla characters. You feel like you are right there.


Who am I?

I’ve spent most of my life since the 1970s working with whales and dolphins. I was lucky to get involved in one of the first field studies for killer whales and since then have led other research in the Russian Far East. I have worked with entomologists in Costa Rican rainforests, blue whale scientists in Québec and Iceland, humpback whale scientists in Hawaii. I’ve searched for rare North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy, measured Canada’s tallest trees in British Columbia and seen the wild plant ancestors of maize growing in the mountains of Mexico. Field research—studying and living in nature—makes us empathize with Planet Earth.


I wrote...

Orca: The Whale Called Killer

By Erich Hoyt,

Book cover of Orca: The Whale Called Killer

What is my book about?

When Erich Hoyt's Orca: The Whale Called Killer was first published in 1981, little was known about orcas. He and his colleagues spent seven summers following these intelligent, playful creatures in the waters off northern Vancouver Island. Hoyt's group dispelled the negative mythology about orcas while uncovering intimate details of their social behavior. 

This revised 2019 fifth edition includes Hoyt's original account, plus exciting new chapters that bring readers up to date on the revolution in orca research and understanding. Hoyt's youthful adventures turned into his life's work. Now a world-renowned expert on whales and dolphins, he shares orca wisdom along with stories from additional field study in Russia’s Far East and return trips to meet the descendants of the orcas he encountered years earlier.

A Problem from Hell

By Samantha Power,

Book cover of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

I think every historian should read works by journalists in order to see how good writing can elevate a topic. Samantha Power's work on the history of genocide and the response of American foreign policy to various global incidences of genocide takes a dark and complex topic and makes it highly engaging and readable. Power’s work is informed by her past experience as a war correspondent in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Her work is important in that it is not simply a history of genocide from an observer’s standpoint, instead, she takes a moral position and makes a strong case for intervention in the face of mass atrocities. With that in mind, not only a book for every historian to read, but every politician as well.


Who am I?

I am a writer, researcher, and sometimes curator and I have a passion for history and great storytelling. While my own research has focused on the First World War, I have worked on exhibits and reports on a wide array of topics. I continue to be inspired by new ways of understanding and depicting history, and especially by the work of fellow women writers and historians. This short list is a glimpse into some of my favourite works of non-fiction writing out there that has been produced by women and that have inspired me.


I wrote...

Death or Deliverance: Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War

By Teresa Iacobelli,

Book cover of Death or Deliverance: Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War

What is my book about?

Soldiers found guilty of desertion or cowardice during the Great War faced death by firing squad. Novels, histories, movies, and television series often depict courts-martial as brutal and inflexible, and social memories of this system of frontline justice have inspired modern movements to seek pardons for soldiers executed on the battlefield. In this powerful and moving book, Teresa Iacobelli looks beyond stories of callous generals and quick executions to consider the trials of nearly two hundred soldiers who were sentenced to death but spared by a disciplinary system capable of thoughtful review and compassion.

By bringing to light these men’s experiences, Death or Deliverance reconsiders an important chapter in the history of both a war and a nation.

A Question of Power

By Bessie Head,

Book cover of A Question of Power

Do you like a good scare? Well, Stephen King is one kind of scary, but A Question of Power is something else altogether: a descent into a sunless valley writhing with monsters. We know that these monsters dwell in the mind of the main character, Elizabeth. But there’s no safety in knowing that, for we’re locked in with them. If we sometimes climb a tree and feel a fresh breeze on our faces, it’s with the knowledge that those tentacles can slither up and snatch us back into hell at a moment’s notice. And they do. 

I didn’t start with what many consider the most important facts of this novel: that Elizabeth is a mixed-race woman born in South Africa and exiled to Botswana. And those are vital facts. But Elizabeth is also one luminous, suffering soul. Watching her fight her way out of that dark valley is a terrifying…


Who am I?

I love the fantastic—madly, insatiably. Far too much, indeed, to limit myself to what the publishers label “fantasy”. Such labels don’t enlighten us, however much they condition us to predictable purchasing behavior. We’re better off ignoring them. We’re better off defining fantasy for ourselves. These five knockout novels are saturated with fantasy. It’s high time we fantasy lovers recognized our kin.


I wrote...

Master Assassins, 1: The Fire Sacraments, Book One

By Robert V.S. Redick,

Book cover of Master Assassins, 1: The Fire Sacraments, Book One

What is my book about?

“This book has everything I love: clean, crisp worldbuilding. Characters who live and breathe. A story that teases and surprises me. I like this book so much I wish I'd written it, but deep down, I know I couldn't have written it this well.”Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind.

A road trip. A desert adventure. A family gothic. An anti-war war story. A meditation on love, fanaticism, and the nature of genius. Master Assassins is epic fantasy like you’ve never seen before.

Small Country

By Gaël Faye,

Book cover of Small Country

Sometimes fiction, with its knack for getting under the skin, is the best way of grasping the human impact of something as psychologically earth-shaking as mass murder. Set in the early 1990s, this novel’s narrator is the son of a French father and Rwandan mother, living in Bujumbura, just across the border from Rwanda. Inevitably the mass killings spill over into Burundi, exacerbating existing tensions between Hutus and Tutsis there and shattering an already precariously-poised family. I get the impression this book sold well in both French and English, and I’m not surprised. Under its deceptively simple surface, it packs a punch.


Who am I?

After working as a foreign correspondent in Italy and France I was sent by Reuters news agency to Cote d’Ivoire and what was then Zaire, the latter posting coinciding with the shocking start of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It was the kind of assignment you don’t forget, and when I moved to the Financial Times I continued following the larger-than-life dramas unfolding in Africa’s Great Lakes region. I’ve now written five books, the first – In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz - about Mobutu Sese Seko's imprint on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the latest – Do Not Disturb - looking at personalities and events I first started writing about a quarter of a century ago. You keep going back.


I wrote...

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

By Michela Wrong,

Book cover of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

What is my book about?

A real-life murder and spy thriller set in central Africa. Do Not Disturb uses the lurid assassination of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s exiled former spy chief, to unpick the story of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the movement that went from united guerrilla group to unhappy post-genocide government, with one man – Paul Kagame – emerging as a ruthless despot, ready to eliminate all those who stand in his way. Kagame's victims include his old friend Karegeya, strangled in the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg on his orders. This is a story about an African revolution gone bad, but it’s also a tale of treachery amongst friends, for the founders of the RPF attended school together, learned how to fight at one anothers’ sides, and made speeches at each others’ weddings. The personal IS the political in this slow-motion African tragedy.

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