Left to Tell

Left to Tell Summary and Analysis of Part 1: Chapters 5-8


Immaculée plans to stay at school for Easter break to study for her exams, but her father begs her to come home so they can be a family. She plans to go home for six days along with Augustine, the younger brother of her roommate Sarah, who is friends with Vianney. Immaculée’s whole family is home for Easter except Aimable, who is studying in Senegal for his postgraduate work. Damascene and Vianney are home from Kigali, where they are respectively a high school teacher and a boarding school student.

Their peaceful vacation is interrupted when Damascene tells them how worried he is about the Interhamwe. Their father doubts anything is too wrong but Damascene begs him to have the family cross Lake Kivu and escape into Zaire before it is too late. But their father assures them they should not leave. This is their last night together as a family.

In the middle of that night Damascene wakes Immaculée up to tell her that the president is dead: shot out of the sky while in a plane. Immaculée remembers that on the radio a few days ago she heard the Hutu extremists saying that if anything happened to the president all Tutsis would be killed. Soon the family learns that their Uncle Twaza has been killed in Kigali and that all civilians are forbidden to travel from their homes. This, Immaculée recalls, is the beginning of the genocide: April 7th 1994.

For the next few days her family hides in their house, and all of them are full of tension. Her father is denying that anything bad will happen and Damascene is losing hope that they can survive, while Immaculée tries to give everyone both a realistic outlook and hope. On the third day, thousands of local Tutsis gather outside their house to seek her father’s advice. By the next morning there are 10,000. Interhamwe come armed with machetes but the crowd at her house drives them off.

Immaculée gives her father her scapular for protection and he gives her his rosary. The killers come back and her father goes into a craze wanting to fight them and rally up the other Tutsi men. Her mother publically begs him not to, and the killers eventually leave. There were 100 of them.

Immaculée’s father and Damascene tell her she has to go into hiding because it is too dangerous for her as a young woman to be at their house if the killers come back. Immaculée does not want to go, but within an hour is heading to the house of Pastor Murinzi with Augustine. At his house, the pastor greets them and invites them inside. Her old teacher Buhoro and old friend Janet are there, but the turn away from her in disgust. From Buhoro this was predictable, but Immaculée is shocked by Janet’s reaction, especially because she had thought she could hide at Janet’s.

Damascene and Vianney come to the Pastor’s house to tell her that their house has been burned down and their parents have fled together. Damascene leaves to hide with his friend Bonn, a Hutu. Five Tutsi women arrive seeking shelter, and they hide with Immaculée in a bedroom while they hear screams of killing and death outside the house. They all hide in a stifling crawl space in the ceiling. Pastor Murinzi makes Vianney and Augustine leave, because he says it is too dangerous for men to be hiding with him. The next morning Immaculée has to tell them to leave, her heart breaking as she forces her youngest brother to go out into the dangerous killing fields: “I felt like a mother throwing her baby to a pack of wolves… They walked out the door and were swallowed by the darkness” (69).


These chapters contain several important quotes concerning the horrible changes in her country that Immaculée will witness, but also shows how she will learn to cope: through God.

"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” (41), Immaculée recalls.

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 their last dinner together, 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?" (59) Immaculée wonders.

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 stands in for 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?" (60)

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 that she "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.