Books·How I Wrote It

Judi Rever uncovers truths about the Rwandan genocide with In Praise of Blood

The Montreal journalist and author talks about her groundbreaking book, which is on the shortlist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
Judi Rever's new book In Praise of Blood challenges the dominant narrative about the Rwandan genocide. (Penguin Random House)

For more than two decades, Montreal's Judi Rever has been hard at work. With her nonfiction book In Praise of Blood, the freelance journalist uses her extensive investigative skills to uncover the real story of the killing in Rwanda between the Hutus and Tutsis in the mid-1990s. 

In Praise of Blood is nominated for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction and is a 2018 QWF Literary Awards finalist.

Below, Rever explains how she wrote In Praise of Blood.

Evidence of atrocities

"For over 20 years, I had collected testimony, mainly from victims, of crimes committed by the troops of the Rwandan regime under its president, Paul Kagame. Their stories crystallized in my mind. I also managed to get hold of former colleagues of Kagame, people who had worked in the army and in intelligence. I got a much clearer idea of how criminal the regime was. I realized I had enough material and enough of a focus to write a book." 

Reporting the real truth

"I often had no books with me to take notes in the field. Some of my interviews were so crucial and difficult that people asked me to stop recording them and to get the microphone out of their faces. I listened to them a lot during the years after my trip to Congo and Rwanda and I learned so much from the stories the nuances of histories.

"Interestingly enough, the stories my contacts told me about operations during the genocide often coincided and reinforced stories of victims. At that point, I knew this was a tremendously important project. I had enough material to build a book and could tell that story. It just became so important."

Technology changes, recorded histories

"The span of my research is over a lengthy period of time. Technology and the way in which I collected information had changed over the years. When I first traveled to Congo and started exploring these issues, I had just purchased a digital audio tape recorder and this was something new to me at the time. While there, I managed to tape dozens and dozens of people in the forest and in transit camps in Congo. I interpreted some of the things that they said to me differently than what I understood in the moment. I had this incredible resource at my fingertips for years."

Writing a cinematic scene

"I took a very interesting course in screenwriting at the University of British Columbia which helped me write this book. I decided on 10 or 15 chapters, and the chapters were created as scenes in the cinematic and visual sense. With each chapter, I wanted to not just explore a theme, but prove it as well. There was a cause-effect in each chapter, so I tried to find 10 to 15 ideas that would explore the human dilemma and then build a cinematic scene to depict it."

Judi Rever's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.