“In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills” Review and History

“In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills” Review and History

“In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills” by Jennifer Haupt explores the Rwandan Genocide where Hutu systematically slaughtered over 800,000 Tutsi in about 100 days. In “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills,” Haupt explores the idea of personal peace through three women who were directly and indirectly affected by the genocide. She also provides loads of historical context about the genocide, which I’m itching to expand on.

“The World Didn’t Know or Care About Rwanda”

In her introduction to “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills,” Michelle Halket admits that she was never one to follow the news. But the news about Rwanda in 1994 consumed her. She writes, “A few years later, I was working at a large firm and met a woman from Rwanda. My face dropped and she said to me in surprise, ‘You know?’ I told her that of course I do, doesn’t everyone? She looked immensely sad, lowered her face and said, ‘No, they don’t.’ I’ve carried her face and words with me since then: the world didn’t know (or care) about Rwanda.”

This sentiment is Picking Books’ raison d'être, fostering the urge to learn about the people who have both bolstered society and sought to destroy it. So, because my biggest concern in 1994 was how I was finally going to stop biting my nails and not what was happening halfway around the world, “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills” by Jennifer Haupt opened my eyes to the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Summary of In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills

First, thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a review copy of “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills.”

After a miscarriage, Rachel feels the urge to seek out her estranged photojournalist father, Henry, who she learns lived in Rwanda. She travels to Rwanda 10 years after the genocide to meet Lillian. Originally from Georgia, Lillian operates an orphanage in Rwanda that she and Henry built together. During her stay, Rachel learns about her father while witnessing how Rwandans are coming to terms with the genocide. 

Haupt also visited Rwanda a decade after the genocide. On her bio page, Haupt explains that she traveled to Rwanda as a journalist “to explore the connections between forgiveness and grief.” She writes, “It struck me that the common human bond, the thing that ties us all together and transcends our differences, is grief. My quest became more about finding grace — personal peace — than forgiveness. In Rwanda, they have a word for this: Amahoro. It means peace, but so much more. This is the core theme of the novel I worked on for eleven years. Now, more than ever, I believe the world needs Amahoro.”

I hope that grief isn’t the only thing that transcends our differences, but it is a powerful unifier. Haupt makes a valuable point about Amahoro though. The genocide is unforgivable, but it happened. The only way for Rwandan’s to move past it is to make peace or Amahoro with it. In “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills,” Nadine, Lillian and Henry’s adopted daughter, has the best story arc relating the genocide and the idea of personal peace.

The History in “In The Shadow of 10,000 Hills”

The Rwandan genocide was the result of hundreds of years of tension between Hutu and Tutsi, the two major ethnic groups in Rwanda. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica’s page on the Rwandan genocide, German and Belgian colonial policies and attitudes toward ethnicity exacerbated the tension.

The Hutu revolted in the late 1950s. They took control of the government, and Tutsi became second-class citizens. The rift between Hutu and Tutsi resulted in the decades-long waxing and waning of violence between the two groups. 

After a Tutsi-led invasion in 1990, the Hutu-led government agreed to work with the Tusti-led Front Patriotique Rwandais. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Hutu extremists were strongly opposed to that plan. Dissemination of their anti-Tutsi agenda, which had already been widely propagated via newspapers and radio stations for a few years, increased and would later serve to fuel ethnic violence.”

After the president of Rwanda died in a suspicious plane crash in 1994, Hutu extremists began systematically slaughtering Tutsi and moderate Hutu using crude weapons. Hutu extremists often lured Tutsi to supposed safe havens, like churches, where they murdered Tutsi en masse. Over the course of about 100 days, Hutu extremists slaughtered more than 800,000 people in what Rwanda now infamously refers to as the genocide.

The Role of Ethnic ID Cards in the Rwandan Genocide

ID cards also played an important role in the Rwandan genocide. By the 1930s the Belgian colonial government added ethnicity to Rwanda identification cards. The government classified citizens as either Hutu, Tutsi, Twa or a naturalized citizen.

In “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills,” Rachel asks if anyone escaped the genocide. Tucker, Lillian’s right-hand man, explains, “‘There’s only one road, through the mountains, that leads into Uganda and the Hutus had it locked down tight,’ Tucker says. ‘There was a stream of people—entire families—mostly walking. Anyone with a Tutsi ID, or without any ID at all, was shot. The Hutus hunted them down like animals in the forests and the rivers, where people hid under water breathing through reeds’” Haupt then describes the scene: “Bodies stacked like firewood along this highway that runs from Kigali north into Uganda…people hiding under the dead…nobody escaped.”

These quotes sound like dystopian fiction—ethic ID cards, a highway turned catacomb, people hiding under water breathing through reeds—but they are historically accurate. By classifying Rwandans as Hutu and Tutsi on ID cards, the Belgian colonial government laid the foundation for the Rwandan genocide.  “No other factor was more significant in facilitating the speed and magnitude of the 100 days of mass killing in Rwanda,” says Jim Fussel of Prevent Genocide International.

Why Everyone Should Care About the Rwandan Genocide

“The dead of Rwanda accumulated at nearly three times the rate of Jewish dead during the Holocaust,” writes Philip Gourevitch in his 1995 New Yorker article “After the Genocide.

That is terrifying. 

And Genocide is not a thing of the past. 

In a March 12, 2018 Note to Correspondents, Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, writes, “Let us be clear: international crimes were committed in Myanmar. Rohingya Muslims have been killed, tortured, raped, burnt alive and humiliated, solely because of who they are. All the information I have received indicates that the intent of the perpetrators was to cleanse northern Rakhine state of their existence, possibly even to destroy the Rohingya as such, which, if proven, would constitute the crime of genocide.”

Genocide is preventable though.

The Rwandan genocide is significant because of the international community’s lack of action before and during the genocide. In their article, “Preventing the Bloodbath,” published in The Journal of Conflict Studies, A. Walter Dorn and Jonathan Matloff explain,

“high-ranking officials of both the UN and member-states, particularly the United States, failed to recognize and publicly declare the genocide even as tens of thousands were being slaughtered. Early recognition would have focused more international attention on the horrors in Rwanda, increased pressure by NGOs and an outraged public to stop the killings immediately, and caused the Security Council to strengthen UNAMIR at an early stage. Instead, the systematic killing of Tutsis was inaccurately described as "ethnic violence," the inevitable consequence of the civil war between the RPF and the FAR.”

Our job is to be that outraged public. To know and care about the horrors in places like Rwanda even when our governments fail to recognize them.

“In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills” Review

Our job is also to practice tolerance and respect. Both learning about the Rwandan genocide and reading “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills” can help us.

In her introduction, Halket points out that the three leading ladies in “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills” come from different backgrounds, but they all work together and support each other. This juxtaposed against the close-mindedness that caused the genocide, makes “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills” a beautiful work of art.

I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t like “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills.” It is the best book I’ve read since starting Picking Books. “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills” is not mass market fiction, but it reads like it is. The characters are authentic and unforgettable, the pacing is spot on, and it makes you think. Although it does deal with the serious issue of the Rwandan genocide, “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills” is not depressing. Instead, it is both moving and hopeful. 

There is a lot more to the Rwandan genocide and the book than what I’ve covered here, and I hope that “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills” inspires you to learn more. And if you're interested in how Rwandans found Amahoro in real life, check out the New York Times Magazine article "Portraits of Reconciliation." It moved me to tears.


In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills

By Jennifer Haupt
Central Avenue Publishing. 384 pp.

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