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Book reviews for "Gourevitch,_Philip" sorted by average review score:

The Village of Waiting
Published in Paperback by Farrar Straus & Giroux (Pap) (2001)
Authors: George Packer and Philip Gourevitch
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Haunting--this book is raw and hontest. I can't get it off my mind. Will be visiting friends doing VSO in northern Ghana soon and am trying to get a copy for them as well.

Togo: still crazy after all these years
I read a tattered, much passed around copy of Village of Waiting in my Peace Corps house in a village not far from George Packer's. I just returned in October 2001. Hard to imagine that after nearly twenty years, so much of what Packer wrote about Togo has not changed very much. . . Togo still waits. When people ask me about Togo, I'm still not sure what to say. I imagine Packer is still unsure. All I can say is that it is easy to give up on Togo, quite another thing to give up on its people. Packer's reflections of life in Lavie provide a lot of insight into the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer. This is a book that many PCVs either love or hate. Although it must be said that they seem to hate it when they arrive in Togo, and love it if they read or re-read it later, especially after leaving Togo. Many PCVs have complained that he was too soft, and couldn't handle it, but it is my impression that Packer really understood his reality and that is what made it so hard for him to handle it everyday. He understood the absurdity and hardship, and did not romanticize it. It made him angry. I know how he felt. I often wondered about the characters in Packer's book, as I zoomed through Lavie on my way up-country. Luckily, this new print has some follow-up on the many characters of his village.

A moving, intelligent and insightful masterpiece
For the longest time after reading this amazing and wonderful book I worried about George Packer - how he had gotten on, if he was successful, where he had gone, and if he had written more in the same lucid and painfully honest style he used in this autobiographical essay on his years in Togo as a Peace Corps volunteer. So it was with special joy today that I discovered not only that he's just written a major work (on American liberalism) that has been reviewed by the NY Times quite favorably, but that's he's written other works as well. Truly, Packer has an intellectual honesty that is extremely rare, coupled with an innate ability to put in words the deepest and most sincere and heartfelt feelings of Peace Corps volunteer and of those who have share the volunteer experience, particularly those among us who were blessed with service in Africa. The Village of Waiting is a "travel narrative", you might call it, that transcends the genre. Highly recommended.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda
Published in Hardcover by Farrar Straus & Giroux (1998)
Author: Philip Gourevitch
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The Anatomy of an Atrocity
In "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families," Philip Gourevitch goes far beyond the media descriptions of the Rwandan genocide in explaining not just how but why it happened.

His travels in Rwanda began in 1995 almost a year after the Hutu led government rallied its supporters and carried out the organized slaughter of the Tutsi minority. Much of the book tells the chilling stories of indidivual survivors as well as those who participated in the massacre. It is these stories that give the book much of its power because, much like Daniel Goldhagen's book "Hitler's Willing Executioners" they demonstrate how normal people can become tools of a corrupt and authoritarian regime that uses race as a means to control its people.

In explaining the causes of one of the worst cases of "democide" in the 20th century, Gourevitch exposes the complicity of the US, UN, and the French. But the real blame rests in the history of 20th century European imperialism. Gourevitch goes far back in the history of Rwanda to explain how the Hutus and Tutsis lived in peaceful coexistence until the Belgians, relying on outdated theories of eugenics, segregated the two tribes and favored the "regal" looking Tutsis over the Hutus. Racial identity cards and inequitable opportunities for education and employment that favored the Tutsi minority led to tensions that exploded after Rwanda gained independence in the 1950s. Blame for the resulting series of Tutsi massacres falls on those who established the system and perpetuated the myth of racial differences.

This book will leave you with doubts about the capability of the international community to prevent similar atrocities in the future as well as the sincerity of governments that, while professing the importance of human rights, allow hundreds of thousands to die before responding with too little, too late.

A life changing experience
The genocide in Rwanda was a tragedy beyond belief, especially considering that after the Jewish Holocaust of WW2, the international community had sworn never to allow such a mass murder to happen again. Yet as thousands of people screamed out in pain and anguish for their lives to be saved, for the violence to stop, for justice to prevail, no one heeded their cries. Reading this book, and others on this genocide, opened my eyes to the painful truth of what happened in Rwanda. It broke my heart, realizing there was no rescuer, no savior for the hundreds of thousands of murdered persons who perished in 100 days. No happy ending. No white knight (or whatever color) galloping in to save the day. Philip Gourevitch eloquently writes about what happened, uncovering the bitter truth of Western inaction and describing the horrific scenes of evil in the course of the genocide. The victims, whether they be Hutu or Tutsi, appear real to the reader, never seeming too unrealistic as to turn someone away from the book. Gourevitch makes them on paper what they were in real life: human beings, and this affects the reader even more. Reading this book is a life changing experience, as the reader is forced to ask painful questions during and afterwards about what happened, why it happened, and why it was allowed to happen. Why do human beings do this to each other? Why didn't anyone stop it? Why didn't enough people care enough to bring it to the spotlight of public attention? Gourevitch, in a significant part of the book, writes of how the murderers, the Hutu Power militia, were saved, fed and protected by international aid agencies and governments who arrived too late to save the genocide's victims. The irony is painful, and even more such for Americans such as myself is the realization that America is to blame for the prolonging of the genocide, and for a majority of the lack of action on the part of other nations. Gourevitch exposes the American government's heinous actions: denying a genocide was even occuring at first, and once the bodies were piling up, trying to label it something other than a genocide so that America wouldn't be forced to act to halt the holocaust. When African nations sought to put an end to the genocide, America dragged its heels and did its best to slow the effort. As a young man raised in a family full of military veterans and fierce patriots, it is shameful for all of us to believe our government, our nation, would do such a heinous thing, but it did, and from the truth perhaps some good can occur. More genocides are going to occur in the very near future, whether they be in Sudan, Indonesia, Burundi, one of the former Soviet Republics, or anywhere else, and the call to arms will be made to prevent/stop the genocide occuring. Will anyone answer?

A required text for the 21st century
In early May 1994 I stood on a bridge over the river that forms the border between Rwanda and Tanzania and observed corpses floating down towards Lake Victoria in an unbroken stream. As I write this, two Rwandan women are taking the unprecedented action of suing the United Nations for its failure to intervene in the worst act of genocide since WW2. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who played a kay role in UN decision-making in 1994, has confessed the UN's "failure" and expressed his own "deep remorse." 800,000 people died, most of them hacked to death with machetes by their neighbours. How this happened, and how the world utterly failed in its self-appointed role to prevent exactly such a holocaust, is the subject of this beautifully written, accessible and compelling book. Gourevitch wants to know WHAT happened, and through interviews with survivors, gives us the clearest and most comprehensive understanding I have yet seen. It is not pretty reading, although Gourevitch's dispassionate and sensitive writing makes it possible to get through material that in coarser hands would be impossible to stomach. He also describes the HOW. For years it was evident to the West - and most particularly to France and Belgium - that Hutu factions were gathering their strength to strike at the Tutsi minority. Every day Hutu radio stations ran violent anti-Tutsi propaganda, in which Tutsis and any moderate Hutus who were not interested in killing them were warned to prepare to die. When the killing began, it was simply the next logical step in a process that had long been underway. The case seems impossible to refute - indeed, the UN's internal investigation which published its report in December 1999 does NOT refute - that the genocide was both broadly predictable, and could have been ameliorated, if not altogether stopped, by effective international intervention. The legal knots the UN allowed to create for itself, so that "blue-helmets" felt they could not act to save a woman being raped and hacked to pieces, because their mandate allowed for only their own self-defence, are just one example of how international law can - sometimes - ENCOURAGE crimes against humanity. The lessons of Rwanda, painfully learnt, will influence the way the so-called "world community" responds to massive ethnic eruptions for a generation to come. To begin to understand this most painful event in recent human history, this book cannot be too highly recommended. If there is one small niggle, it is the lack of an index, something that I hope will be addressed in future editions.

A Cold Case
Published in Digital by FSG ()
Author: Philip Gourevitch
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A case of yin and yang
This true crime story is a quick and breezy recounting of a New York murder case that took twenty-seven years to resolve. It weighs in at less than seven pages per year, though it does not pretend to be a thorough or chronological unraveling of this off-again-on-again investigation. There is no attempt to get inside the killer's brain. The killer, Frankie Koehler, was in fact known from the outset. And when all is said and done, this cold blooded killer from Hell's Kitchen comes across as the stable fulcrum between the plodding obsessiveness of the soon-to-retire detective Andy Rosenzweig and the killer's cynically manic defense attorney, "Don't Worry Murray" Richman. The disparity between these two men's personalities is surreal. If there was a story in how the detective and the lawyer interacted, Gourevitch doesn't tell it. The author gives his readers glimpses of the lives of many of the key players and victims, but does not provide us with any of the texture and depth of portraiture that a truly gifted storyteller might. If John Berendt (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) is Rubens, Gourevitch is a cartoonist or quick sketch artist. He expects each gesture to speak volumes; few do. Where his brevity and superficiality pay off is in the creation of a sense of how given to chance and circumstance anyone's life is. However, to call this book an existential look at a criminal act would be more than generous. Even so, it makes you wonder how many crimes go unresolved due to lethargy, human indifference, and careerism that favors closing a case over admitting the inability to resolve it. Worth a read if you like the true crime genre and have an hour to kill.

A Cop, A Murderer and the Power of Restless Memory
Frankie Koehler killed two men; Andy Rosenzweig, a New York City cop and friend of one of the dead men, re-opens the case 27-years after the murders and the disappearance of Koehler--the cold case. Writing concisely, with truth and compassion, but straight-forwardly about the characters, Mr. Gourevitch, a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, tells the story of a small-time 'wise-guy', the arrow-straight conscientious cop and how time may and may not soften the edges of good and bad people. I enjoyed the integrity and clarity Mr. Gourevitch strenuously employs to tell this sad, hopeful and redemptive story of justice ultimately achieved. All the characters, including the ethically misguided defense attorney, Murray Richman, are presented as real and human: the good, the bad and the ugly. For an honest study of human psychology, police procedure and some life in our times read 'A Cold Case.'

A quick read with some depth
This is about a small time hood, Frank G. Koehler, who got mad at a couple of guys and shot them both to death in cold blood while wounding a third party. That was in 1970. He escaped and was never brought to justice. Eventually the case was closed because somebody (Gourevitch doesn't tell us who) was of the "opinion" that Koehler had to be dead since (according to others) it was "virtually inconceivable that a man with such a violent disposition and criminal history could have remained alive and out of trouble" for so long. (p. 26) Then in 1997, 27 years after the crime, Andy Rosenzweig, chief investigator for Manhattan's district attorney, reopened the case.

But this really isn't about Rosenzweig's pursuit of Koehler. There wasn't much of a pursuit. They found him living in Benicia, California and picked him up when he arrived at Penn Station in New York on July 30, 1997, "a pathetic old man" 67-years-old. A photo taken that day makes him look like a rummy with a bad dye job.

So what's this book about, and why is it considered so good that Scott Turow and Elmore Leonard, among others, have touted it? Quite simply this is a textbook example of how to write a modest crime story with an underlying emphasis on our criminal justice system, how it works, and how it fails. Besides the two chief characters in the book, Koehler and Rosenzweig, there is a revealing portrait of defense attorney, "Don't Worry Murray" Murray Richman, a man who's made a nice living defending some of New York City's sleazier crooks. The aptly named Richman believes that there's a difference between the authorities and gangsters: "the gangsters are more compassionate." (p. 128) He adds (p. 132): "If I defended only innocent people, I'd go hungry." He says he believes in the system (which is one of the reasons he defends the accused), but his bottom line philosophy is "The truth is there is no truth." (p. 132).

There's a certain nostalgic gangster color to the characters in this book. Koehler is a particularly good study, a guy who first killed when he was fifteen years old, but a guy who somehow while on the lam for twenty-seven years, managed to become so beloved that he was thought of by some of the people in Benicia, California as "their unofficial mayor" and they supported him with t-shirts reading "free New York Frankie." (p. 161)

Rosenzweig is the hero, a guy who never gives up, an honest cop who works methodically, dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's until he gets his man, a born bloodhound, and the kind of guy we ought to have more of in law enforcement.

Much of this true crime story first appeared in The New Yorker where Gourevitch's crisp, clean prose was much ballyhooed. This book expands on what I read there. It's a attractive book and a quick read.

We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families
Published in Digital by FSG ()
Author: Philip Gourevitch
Amazon base price: $9.00
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