Imagining What Is Real

A few weeks ago I finished We Wish To Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, which was a long, slow read. The subject matter—the genocide in Rwanda—is fascinating, and horrifying, and that’s what kept me reading, although there were a few times I thought about not finishing it, mainly because I was eager to get on to something else. The book was like one long (well-written) newspaper or newsmagazine article, and not exactly the kind of reading I felt like picking up before I went to bed at night. But how can you set down for too long something that reveals, for example, that France’s President Mitterrand said “In such countries, genocide is not too important”? I want to know about these things (and I wish it were easier to hear about them, and I were better at paying attention, before 12 years or more have passed). It’s like watching a train wreck—you want to avert your eyes, and yet you can’t (and really, in this kind of situation, we shouldn’t, though it seems our government did a pretty good job of it). And the fact that few of us actually did get to see this for ourselves means that we have to leave it to our imagination. As the author describes, “All at once, as it seemed, something we could have only imagined was upon us—and we could still only imagine it. This is what fascinates me most in existence: the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.” He is reminded of Marlow in Heart of Darkness saying, after it was all over, “It was not my strength that needed nursing, it was my imagination that wanted soothing.”

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