In our fast-paced world, it is easy to move from one crisis to another. Conflicts loom in rapid succession, problems demand solutions (or at least analysis) and impending disasters require a response. It is all we can do to pay attention to the present moment. Lingering on the consequences of the past seems to take too much of our finite attention.
Jennie Burnet‘s fantastic new book Genocide Lives in Us: Women, Memory and Silence in Rwanda (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), offers a useful corrective to this fascination with the immediate. Jennie is interested primarily in what it means to live in a society ruptured by violence. She writes about how people try to speak, or not speak, about the killing that destroyed their families or those of their neighbors. She reflects on how the government’s decision to try to forestall future violence by eliminating ethnic categories affects individuals’ efforts to shape their own identity and self-understanding. She analyzes the way practices of memorialization reflect changing ways of understanding and narrating past atrocities. And she allows her subjects to share the challenges of living in a world where the past is always present.
Jennie, both in print and in the interview, is thoughtful, articulate and compassionate. I hope the interview gives you a taste of the richness of her book.
Genocide Lives in Us won the 2013 Elliot Skinner Book Award from the Association for Africanist Anthropology. It also received an honorable mention for the 2013 Melville J. Herskovits Award from the African Studies Association.