Review: As We Forgive, by Josh Wilson, Relevant Magazine online
To most people, the horror and aftermath of genocide is a completely foreign idea. It’s a newspaper headline, a faint memory of a missionary story or an unknown crisis altogether. For Rwandans, it is an unforgettable part of daily life. Catherine Claire Larson outlines the situation of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and its lingering presence in her recent book As We Forgive.
The book, which is based on Laura Waters Hinson’s film, is a collection of first-hand stories of those most directly affected by genocide’s ruthless blade: the orphans, widows and killers. Life goes on after the genocide, but now former murderers must coexist with victims. Larson explores the only solution capable of peace and healing for Rwanda’s deep wounds—forgiveness.
Larson relates beautifully written stories of pre-genocide home, family and daily Rwandan life to a recent event that changed everything. In 2003, 40,000 convicted genocide perpetrators were released back into society due to overcrowded prisons. Larson writes of the unavoidable interaction of these prisoners (and those that continue to be released since then) with those they previously hunted, the Tutsi people.
Larson tells the escape stories of seven main characters who narrowly survived the native Hutu people’s attempt to eradicate the Tutsis. The narrative follows the survivors and their difficult journeys gradually leading to forgiveness of those who wronged them. Larson includes survivors’ stories that range from their escape, the slaughter of their family and friends, physical injury and torment, and hiding in the mud or brush for days. These survivors escaped death, but their family, friends and former way of life did not. The author shows how the shattered lives of these victims are being restored through forgiveness and reconciliation. She shares their stories of facing the very ones responsible for killing their loved ones and destroying their lives. In the process, the victims as well as the offenders find peace.
The sheer dramatic nature of these stories is enough to keep your interest. In the complexity and gravity of these stories of forgiveness, the reconciliation that Larson writes of is almost ironic or unnatural—former murderers and their victims’ family members living side-by-side in peace—but beautiful. Comprehending these scenarios gave me some insight into the nature of forgiveness that I hadn’t thought of before. If the reader is struggling with some kind of forgiveness, they only need to look at these lives to realize that their struggles pale in comparison.
In telling the accounts of real-life forgiveness, Larson analyzes the spiritual and psychological struggles and solutions of victims between chapters of her stories. She breaks down what the reader may initially tend to simplify and shows the nature of forgiveness and how people get there. Her analysis strives to go beyond skimming the surface of forgiveness and establishes the path to reconciliation and peace. She outlines the efforts, people and organizations that are reaching out to surviving Rwandan victims. She shows through her characters that the only way to experience complete forgiveness is through God’s grace.
As We Forgive sheds light on the movement in Rwanda toward reconciliation and explores personal stories of healing in the most unlikely ways. Throughout the book, an extreme importance is placed on forgiveness—something that is so often overlooked or buried for those living without such extreme circumstances. These are stories that most people will never know or experience, but Larson hopes they can inspire her readers to experience reconciliation in their own relationships.