"I wish I had known that that night was to be our last family supper together. I would have stood up and thanked God for all of them. I would have told everyone sitting around that table how much I loved them and thanked them for loving me. But I didn't."
This quote shows the beginning of the regrets and losses that will haunt Immaculée throughout and after the genocide. It shows the fragility of peace and how quickly everything can change: Immaculée had no idea this was to be her last dinner with her family, despite rumbles of unrest and worries about the Interhamwe. This quote shows how quickly everything changed in the country: in 100 days, 100,000 people were killed.
"I staggered into the hall and leaned against the wall. How could my dearest friend turn against me? We'd loved each other like sisters once-how could she be so cruel now? How was it possible for a heart to harden so quickly?"
Immaculée thinks this when her childhood best friend Janet refused to take her in when the genocide begins. Janet is at Pastor Murinzi's house and Immaculée assumed she can stay with her; but Janet coldly shuts her down and says she would never hide a Tutsi in her house. This quote shows the coldness that moved swiftly through the hearts of Hutus in Rwanda when the genocide began. Lifelong friendships were tossed away. This one experience represents thousands of similar ones occurring across Rwanda.
"I don't know where I got the strength to say such things, since I was terrified and completely unsure if we'd survive. But I had to have faith that God would help us; otherwise, why would we endure all the suffering, anguish, and betrayal?"
This is the first time that Immaculée calls on God to give herself and others strength. It foreshadows how she will rely on God in the months to come. She writes "I had to have faith," which shows that, for her, there was no viable alternative. Without faith in God, she would not have been able to keep her spirit intact.
"When morning broke, the birds in the pastor's shade tree began singing. I was jealous of them, thinking, How lucky you are to have been born birds and have freedom - after all, look at what we humans are doing to ourselves.
Immaculée thinks this thought after her first night hiding in the pastor's bathroom. She has no idea how long her ordeal will last and at this point only thinks about it as a day or two in duration. Nevertheless the hot cramped dark quarters are stifling to her. In this quote she expresses her frustration with being a human, part of a race that can effect the destruction of lives she is witnessing all around her. Most people would say that humans are lucky to be humans because of all the higher-level thoughts and ideas humans have compared to other animals, but Immaculée is experiencing the absolute worst that humanity can conjure. For her, human nature has caged her and it is the birds who are free.
"Even a few minutes not spent in prayer or contemplation of God became an invitation for Satan to stab me with his double-edged knife of doubt and self-pity. Prayer became my armor, and I wrapped it tightly around my heart."
The metaphor of prayer being Immaculée's armor and safety net against despair and letting the Devil into her heart first appears here. Immaculée is filled with mental anguish that she feels is sent by Satan to tempt her against God and humanity. She realizes here that the only way to not be overcome hatred is to use God's love to help her through her ordeal, and thus learn to forgive everyone who is doing horrible things to her family and her country.
"It was no use - my prayers felt hollow. A war had started in my soul, and I could no longer pray to a God of love with a heart full of hatred.
I tried again, praying for Him to forgive the killers, but deep down I couldn't believe that they deserved it at all. It tormented me... I tried to pray for them myself, but I felt like I was praying forth the devil."
Immaculée struggles with forgiving the killers here. She hates them and wishes them all to be dead, and only wants to pray for their victims. But she realizes that she is being hypocritical and asking for God to help and save her and her family while she is full of hatred for many other of his human creations. These doubts let Satan creep into her mind, which she describes as a "dark voice." This dilemma is the central one that Immaculée must overcome in her time in captivity.
"I held on to my father's rosary and asked God to help me, and again I heard his voice: Forgive them; they know not what they do.
I took a crucial step toward forgiving the killers that day. My anger was draining from me - I'd opened my heart to God, and He'd touched it with His infinite love. For the first time, I pitied the killers. I asked God to forgive their sins and turn their souls toward His beautiful light.
That night I prayed with a clear conscience and a clean heart. For the first time since I entered the bathroom, I slept in peace."
Immaculée realizes that the killers are not evil. They have done evil deeds, but they do not understand them; this makes them children. After hearing God speak to her, saying at all humans are his children, she realizes that she cannot harbor anger towards the killers because they are unaware of the terribleness of their actions. This realization sparks the revelation she has in this quote, and it changes her life. Forgiveness is the most important theme of the memoir, and this quote highlights when it first becomes a part of Immaculée's life.
Instead of negotiating or begging for mercy, he challenged them to kill him. "Go ahead," he said. "What are you waiting for? Today is my day to go to God. I can feel Him all around us.... I pity you for killing people like it's some kind of child's game. Murder is no game: If you offend God, you will pay for your fun. The blood of the innocent people you cut down will follow you to your reckoning. But I am praying for you...I pray that you see the evil you're doing and ask for God's forgiveness before it's too late."
These are Damascene's final words, relayed to Immaculée by a woman who used to work at her house. Damascene refused to tell the killers where Immaculée was hiding, and died for his loyalty. Additionally this quote reveals his belief in forgiveness, discovered independently of Immaculée's bathroom prayers. Immaculée frequently wrote that Damascene was her best friend and soulmate, and this quote shows that the two were alike in their mentality toward the violence and the killers as well. This quote reveals that forgiveness can bring peace in the face of death.
However, Hutus did often gather along the outer perimeter, peering between the armored cars to catch a glimpse of us. They stared at us like we were zoo animals...sole survivors of a species hunted to the brink of extinction.
This simile comparing the surviving Tutsis to nearly-extinct animals shows the mindset of the Hutu killers. In Immaculée's mind, the killers viewed them as animals, and this quote shows how, in light of this, the surviving Tutsis are a marvel to be seen. This simile is a short but profound way to show how the social landscape of Rwanda has changed rapidly because of the genocide.
I knew that those boys would never see their parents again, and that in all likelihood, all their relatives were dead. I feared that their future would be filled with sadness, abuse, and denied opportunities - the kind of lives where bitterness and hatred easily take root.
I saw the circle of hatred and mistrust forming in those innocent eyes, and I knew that God was showing me another reason He'd spared me. I vowed that one day, when I was strong and capable enough, I would do everything I could to help the children orphaned by the genocide. I would try to bring hope and happiness to their lives, and steer them away from embracing the hatred that had robbed them of their parents, and of a family's love.
In this quote Immaculée realizes that the war will not be over until the cycle of hatred in the country is broken, and that there are now thousands of wounds to heal from the war. The country could experience violence forever unless people learn to forgive. Immaculée sees this in two young boys who do not understand where their dead parents have gone; she worries that this ultimately will destroy their innocence. "The circle of hatred and mistrust" must be broken, and this incident shows Immaculée that she can play a role in that.
We arrived in the capitol in the middle of what would have been a busy working day a few month earlier. As it was, we drove into a ghost town. The streets were deserted except for the occasional United Nations truck or RPF Jeep darting along the empty roads, swerving to avoid the corpses in the street...or the carcasses of the hundreds of dogs the soldiers had shot to stop them from scavenging on human remains. The air reeked of death, and I could hear the wind shrieking through abandoned homes like evicted spirits. So many buildings lay in ruins, burned out and pockmarked by machine-gun fire and mortar rounds. Shop doors were ripped from their hinges, the stores were looted, and every once in a while we'd hear an explosion in the distance. I couldn't recognize the beautiful city whose bright lights and busy boulevards had thrilled me so much as a teenager.
Here, Immaculée enters a changed Kigali. Her wording is especially descriptive and verbose, more so than most of her writing; as such, this description stands out. She paints a picture of a haunted and abandoned Kigali. Her expressive writing, full of similes and stark adjectives, sets the city and her sight of it apart from most of the day-to-day writing about the genocide. The capitol was once a place of splendor in her schoolgirl eyes; this quote finds it much changed, which reflects how the country has been destroyed.
Left to Tell Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Left to Tell is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Left to Tell essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculée Ilibagiza.