A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali


258 pages
ISBN 0-676-97481-3
DDC C843'.6




Translated by Patricia Claxton
Reviewed by Kimberly J. Frail

Kimberly J. Frail is a librarian in the Science and Technology Library
at the University of Alberta.

Public Services Librarian
University of Alberta Libraries
Bibliothèque Saint-Jean


A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali is a gut-wrenching blend of fiction and
actual events leading up to the government-orchestrated 1994 genocide of
the Tutsi people in Rwanda as witnessed by Gil Courtemanche, a
journalist who specializes in Third World politics. According to
Courtemanche, all of the characters are based on real people, most
bearing their actual names, to “convey the human quality of the
murdered men and women” and to expose those he holds responsible for
the planning and execution of what he sometimes refers to in the novel
as “a second Holocaust.”

Courtemanche uses the microcosm of foreign-aid workers, journalists,
diplomats, Rwandan bourgeoisie, and prostitutes who congregate around
the swimming pool of the Mille-Collines Hotel in Kigali to convey the
complex history of conflict between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi
minority against the background of a mounting AIDS crisis. He also
reveals the sometimes provocative or passive role played by foreign
diplomats and UN soldiers. The plight of the Rwandan people is
personified by Gentille, a beautiful hotel waitress who is Hutu but has
the physical characteristics of a Tutsi. She is simultaneously the
object of desire and murderous rage for Hutus, Tutsis, and whites. Most
of the novel is told from the perspective of Bernard Valcourt, an
expatriate French-Canadian journalist who becomes Gentille’s lover.
Courtemanche remains true to his cause, however, reserving the most
climactic chapter for Gentille. In a notebook that she hopes will
eventually end up in Valcourt’s hands, she chronicles her days of
rape, torture, and physical mutilation.

Throughout the text Courtemanche provides explanatory footnotes to
elaborate on actual events. These are used sparingly enough so as not to
detract from the narrative, yet they serve as a sobering reminder that
the story is based in reality. By anchoring the story to Gentille and
the Mille-Collines pool regulars, Courtemanche provides readers with
some insights into the social and political climate that gave rise to
the 1994 genocide in Rwanda as well as into the most basic nature of
humanity itself.


Courtemanche, Gil., “A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17644.