Friday , January 24 2020
African children at school
Hutu and Tutsi lived side by side in Rwanda until village life was shattered

Book review: One Thousand Hills

The genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994 was so horrific and unimaginable, it can be difficult for a young person on the other side of the world to even understand it.

Book cover, One Thousand Hills, By James Roy and Noël Zihabamwe
One Thousand Hills, By James Roy and Noël Zihabamwe

Crossing lines of creed, community and friendship, 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans were murdered in the space of 100 days – that’s 8000 killed per day.

Statistics can feel like nothing more than numbers; they can hold feelings of horror and outrage at bay, safely beneath the threshold for empathic engagement.

One Thousand Hills reminds the reader that each one of these 800,000 victims had families and friends who loved them, and if they were not also killed, miss them to this day.

The novel combines the simple story-telling of childhood preoccupations, pranks and petty misdemeanours with the ever-encroaching background of terror and foreboding.  The contrast highlights just how unexpected the atrocities were for many Rwandan citizens. 

The novel engages us in the happy lull of village life, the rhythmic tones of an everyday existence. Throughout the story, the radio features as a source of information, but also an invasive force to shatter their peaceful existence. The voice on the radio keeps saying perplexing and ominous things…then, as if as knob is turned on a clear radio station, the village atmosphere is slightly distorted at first, by snatches of a hostile exchange on the bus and the “silent conversations” between Pascal’s parents.

Until one day, the knob is wrenched into loud and aggressive white noise, and the peace of his homeland is forever banished (and his childhood with it), by the “Jolts”: murderers with machetes.

The concepts in this novel are challenging, and suitable for the middle high school years and above. An excellent resource to supplement a study of political history in the African region, and to supplement an area not extensively covered in the Australian history curriculum.

One Thousand Hills,

By James Roy and Noël Zihabamwe Agabande, Rwanda, April 1994.

Life is simple but good. Pascal and his brother go to school with their friends, their parents work hard and their little sister is growing up. Almost everyone they know goes to church on Sunday to thank God for his goodness. Lately, there have been whispers and suspicious glances around town, and messages of hate on the radio, and people are leaving… The powerful story of Pascal, a ten-year-old boy living through the shocking events of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Omnibus Books


For young adult readers


About Suzy Barry

Suzy Barry
Suzy Barry is a freelance education writer and the former editor of School News, Australia.

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