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Visiting Rwanda

Accounts of Genocide in Travel Writing

Rachel Moffat

The massacre sites of Rwanda have become, like Auschwitz or Ground Zero, forms of museums preserved in remembrance. In 1995, Philip Gourevitch traveled to Rwanda to see them, explaining that he wanted to gain some understanding of the recent atrocities. Gourevitch forces himself to look because this enables him to present a detailed journalistic account but, more uncomfortably, he is satisfying his own curiosity, as tourists do. Dervla Murphy's Visiting Rwanda (1998) is a similarly intense account of time spent with NGOs, visiting survivors, and hearing excruciating accounts of the genocide. Such graphic accounts of time spent in a war zone raise issues concerning curiosity about death and sites of atrocity. The writers must address the issue of the extent of their own curiosity and also demonstrate that they have a reason to publish such sensitive matter. Gourevitch and Murphy, therefore, must be aware of a difficult paradox in their work: the intensity of events represented in their narratives makes their accounts more pressing but, as a result, they may be said to profit from the conflict.