Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Roméo Dallaire on how he'd like to be remembered

The author of Waiting for First Light answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Roméo Dallaire is the author of Waiting for First Light. (Laura Leyshon)

Former lieutenant-general Roméo Dallaire represented the United Nations during the Rwandan genocide. He witnessed the brutal deaths of 800,000 people in 100 days and he has since devoted himself to preventing such violence from ever happening again. Dallaire now lives with post-traumatic stress disorder. He chronicles his everyday struggle in his book Waiting for First Light, which is longlisted for Canada Reads 2017. 

Below, Roméo Dallaire answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Erín Moure asks, "What part of the writing life brings you most joy?"

Most of my life is lived in airports and hotels, rushing around the globe, trying to make the most difference with the time I have left. In stark contrast, I do most of my writing in a tiny shack in the woods. The process of writing, for me, means peace and serenity. It means a solitude shared, and communion with the truest thoughts and hopes and dreams.

2. Tomson Highway asks, "If you were a musician, which instrument would you play? That is to say, which instrument would you choose to tell your story with?"

There is an inner complexity in the depths of the djembe; a universal heartbeat that reminds us we are all one. I think I would choose that.

3. Jalal Barzanji asks, "How did you feel when you finished your most recent book?"

Fear and anxiety. In the past, I have looked forward to the prospect of people reading my books, of engaging in a larger dialogue about critical issues (the Rwandan genocide, child soldiers); but this one was different. This book was necessary, I believe, to help others understand the depth of this Operational Stress Injury and reduce its stigma. But it is difficult for me to have it 'out there,' plunging me back into the depths of the horrors, revealing my weaknesses. Writing it was in some ways an act of contrition, of self-flagellation, not catharsis.

4. Graeme Smith asks, "As the American performance artist Laurie Anderson said: 'What I really want to know is: Are things getting better? Or are they getting worse?'"

No question. The proud Pollyanna in me says better, better, always better. As long as we continue to strive for more than ourselves, we will not only survive but thrive.

5. Frances Itani asks, "When you have presented your work to an audience in the past, what was the question you were not expecting? The one you thought about for a long time afterward, the one you wish you'd answered differently? How would you reply to it now?"

Every veteran who has ever spoken to a school group, or even a grandchild, has been asked, "Have you ever killed anybody?" We give the standard answers, about a soldier's duty, about risk mitigation and neutralizing threats, but all of us wish we could answer differently; and none of us ever forget.

6. Eden Robinson asks, "What is your first childhood memory?"

My father built a cabin in the Laurentians. When I was a little child I would escape from there into the surrounding hills and woods. I would tear off my clothes and race through the bush, pretending I was a mighty Iroquois warrior.

7. Alison Pick asks, "How would you most like to be remembered?"

Leonard Cohen said, "I think the term 'poet' is a very exalted term and should be applied to a man at the end of his work. When you look back over the body of his work and he has written poetry, then let the verdict be that he's a poet." I think that would be really something, though sadly beyond my humble reach. But I do agree that only the cumulative ensemble of our lives should truly define us.

8. Alexi Zentner asks, "What's your favourite thing a reader has ever said to you?"

Thank you.

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