Reading Together Blog

Hotel Rwanda

The following comments come from Jim Ratliff, a long time Steering Committee member and librarian at KVCC...

“The Kalamazoo Valley Museum hosted a Reading Together event Friday, March 18 with the screening of the movie Hotel Rwanda. The movie retells the true-life story of a compassionate Hutu hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina, who housed and saved over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda.

Early in the movie the hotel manager declares to his wife after their first witnessing of a neighbor’s massacre, “There is nothing we can do.” Little did he know the horrors that were ahead of him and his extraordinary, inspirational courage to do what he could to save persecuted friends, families and villagers from the machete.

Watching this movie 15 years after the genocide, attendees spoke of how they remembered there was conflict going on in Rwanda at the time, but had little understanding of the atrocities. Credible accounts estimate up to a million people were killed in just three months during the conflict. One million lives.

It was a difficult story to accept. Several members of the audience were moved to speak to me afterward proclaiming their sorrowful ignorance of the terrible history. Much like the stories retold by Tracy Kidder however, a distant tragedy was brought to life and made more real when recounted through the lives of individuals. Individuals with courage. Individuals who received help from friends and strangers. Individuals with determination to face adversity one day at a time. Individuals who did marvelous deeds to ensure the success of a cause larger than their own.

I’m thankful to the museum for offering this movie, the museum staff who stayed late and the attendees. With the exposure to Hotel Rwanda and Strength in What Remains, hopefully we will have he strength and courage to help others in times of need.”

~Jim Ratliff


Hotel Rwanda
Reading Together Steering Committee

Kidder kicks off Reading Together with a challenging message.

Over 800 fans of Reading Together and this year’s selection, Strength in What Remains, packed the Chenery Auditorium on March 10 to hear the author Tracy Kidder speak. This year the annual author visit signaled the kick off to KPL’s community reading program. Kidder spoke eloquently of not only his relationship with the book’s subject, Deogratias ‘Deo’ Niyizonkiza, but also the mythic journey of hope and forgiveness that Deo experienced. The presentation touched upon other timely topics in relation to world health, poverty, and what society can do to make change happen. In addition to speaking, Kidder shared a variety of photos that showed both the beauty of Burundi and the many residents whose lives have changed from proper medical care.

Many attendees commented on the way out that thought Kidder was “fabulous” and that his words really inspired them. I know that I heard Kidder’s challenge to work towards asking our leaders make world health an important issue to tackle. If you attended the event, we thank you for participating and hope that it enhanced your reading of Strength in What Remains. There are still many more great events in the coming weeks that will further your enjoyment of the book.


Tracy Kidder
Kevin King

The History of Burundi and Rwanda

We’ve read the book, Tracy Kidder has enlightened and entertained us with the inside story of how it came to be written, and this Reading Together season is now in full swing. On Monday night, KPL hosted the program The History of Burundi and Rwanda presented by Kalamazoo College African studies professor, Joseph Bangura. Strength in What Remains has made me naturally curious to know more about the country of Burundi, so I was anxious to hear its history and that of neighboring Rwanda. Apparently many Reading Together participants felt the same way as nearly fifty people attended the program.

Dr. Bangura skillfully took us through the often complicated history and answered many questions posed by the fascinated audience members. The Hutu and Tutsi people, who make up the majority of the population of both countries, were the subject of much of the discussion. It was interesting to learn that the two groups lived quite peacefully together before European colonization. I won’t offer more of an explanation for fear of over-simplifying the situation, but I recommend that you watch for Dr. Bangura’s thorough and highly informed account in video form, which will soon be available on our website.



Reading Together
Beth T

God, Suffering, Sharon, and other theories

Why would God allow human suffering? This is just one of the questions that Strength in What Remains tries to answer.

The author set's the stage for what he considers unacceptable theories (he mentioned this at his talk): "One of the things I've noticed about some of the genocide narratives I've read, people will say, 'God spared me.' The problem I have with that is then you think, 'Well, what about all the people who got their heads chopped off?...So I'm not quite sure that's the way to look at it" (p. 177).

Deo says that human suffering is caused by God letting people do what they want, a sort of Deistic approach; God created human nature and said "you're on your own." (can you find that passage?) It struck me as almost sad, slightly sarcastic and comedic, perhaps due to the desensitization Deo went through.

Sharon, more optimistic, says: "I have a theory," she replied. "I remember thinking long ago, 'We're loved infinitely for however little bit of time we have.' And it's not ultimately tragic to die at any age. Whether we're talking about being blown into little pieces or waht is ultimate tragedy, I just think there isn't ultimate tragedy except for evil, and God doesn't will any evil. And we're surrounded by--I tell the little kids about the Good Shepherd...but the vine and the branches is great, too--but whether we feel it or not, we are surrounded by this tremendously loving presence, and that covers every second of every day. Of everybody" (p. 177).

Sharon's theory, I think, is one of the most unique theories I have come across.

For further reading, other theories (called "theodicies") include: (a) Free will is the greatest gift, which allows for evil and suffering, (b) suffering is God's way of making us stronger, (c) God cannot stop evil and suffering, (d) evil and suffering do not actually exist, (e) for good to exist, its opposite evil must exist. To find them in our catalog, do a subject search for theodicy, or suffering, or good and evil.


philosophy of religion

Forgiveness as a Theme

In today’s post, I’d like to highlight several films that engage in one way or another with the theme of forgiveness (both of oneself and that of others). The affirmative expression of forgiveness and its role in repairing damaged lives and communities will be a central point of discourse during this year’s Reading Together programs. Each of these films and their characters either directly or sometimes in subtle ways explores the ways in which subjects negotiate the complexities of forgiveness, either on a broad social level or that of individuals in search of unburdening of some sort of psychic pain in order to reconnect (Ordinary People). Throughout these films, there is a thematic current of struggle to redeem and to mend, coursing its way through the lives of characters as they hunt for meaning in an otherwise turbulent and uncertain world. Whether it’s the death row inmate seeking forgiveness prior to his execution in Dead Man Walking or the colonial slave trader in The Mission looking to amend for his earlier crimes amongst the same community he unjustly worked to destroy, films have long probed the difficulties and possibilities involved with reconciliation. So while you’re enjoying the book discussions with your fellow community members and participating in a Reading Together program or two, don’t forget to supplement your engagement with this always timely and dynamic topic with a thought provoking film from our rich collection.

Tender Mercies

The Straight Story

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

The Royal Tenenbaum's

Smoke Signals


Straight Story