ONE THOUSAND HILLS is a young adult novel based in Rwanda at the very beginning of the catastrophic genocide of 1994, in which over 800,000 people were killed in three months. I wrote this book with the help of my friend Noël, who witnessed those awful events with his own eyes.
This is not an easy book to read, just as it wasn't an easy book to write, especially for Noël, who had to go back to some pretty dark childhood memories. But I do think it is an important book. Conflicts like this happen all the time in so many corners of our world. Noël and I both thought it was important that young readers understand this, and get some kind of grasp on the kinds of events that lead to people becoming refugees and asylum seekers.
SOME REVIEWS of ONE THOUSAND HILLS
"This book is devastating. Powerful and wrenching yet achingly beautiful ... Written with understated force and crisp, almost child-like clarity ... Powerful, essential reading."
"This is a wonderfully written, poignant story ..."
"To Roy and Zihabamwe - Thank you for finding the words. This is a beautifully written and important book, telling about the Rwandan genocide. You cannot be but moved."
"I'm assuming it tells it how it really was. Wow. Yup. I'm officially shaken."
"One Thousand Hills is very well written, heartbreaking, though with moments of warmth and humour. Highly recommended."
Excerpt from ONE THOUSAND HILLS
Small, clinging to the bottom of the crooked valley like grime in a fingerprint. The slopes in this part of the country were very steep, and the mountains were always in the edge of your view. The gorillas lived in those mountains, and the tourists came to see the gorillas. They stayed in the lodge with the tall white fence and the metal gates, and took photos of the town as they were driven through in their minibus. But they never stopped in town. They just took photos through the dusty windows of their minivans and safari trucks.
Pascal had never been to see the gorillas. He didn’t know anyone who had. One of his brother’s friends, Kami, said that his father was a guide, and that may or may not have been true. Pascal didn’t trust anything Kami said anyway. He’d been known to lie in the past. He was a snake. Unable to be trusted.
This town, with its handful of shops. The main street, its short section of tar the only sealed road for kilometres in any direction, the only relief from the bone-juddering ruts and potholes, a thin, ragged strip of pavement along the middle of a much wider strip of dirt, dusty in the dry and muddy in the wet, padded free of grass and weeds by thousands of feet.
What else in the town? A bar for the grownups. A small grocery store opposite the school and the giant strangler fig tree on the corner and the road that led up to the seminary and its church. The medical clinic beside Mr Ingabire’s store, run by Dr Singh and his wife, who worked as the clinic nurse. The mechanic’s garage with the stacks of broken motorcycles and worn tyres at the side. And behind the main row of shops was the market, a narrow, sloping lane lined with stalls and faded umbrellas, all faintly tinted with red dust and peppered with stray dogs.
Pascal’s family lived high on the eastern side of the valley. From the front of their house they looked down onto the roofs of the town, and over the stripes of green terraces. Directly across the valley was the seminary. The church had once been white. Now, when viewed from up close, it was streaked by years of rain and red dust. But from Pascal’s house it still appeared white, especially in the early morning. It stood out starkly against the bright green of the grass and trees and bushes, and when the morning mist came through the valley and settled over the town like a steaming lake, the church floated above it like a ship.
Tucked in behind the church was the seminary itself. Two classrooms, a kitchen and small dining room, the dormitory where the young trainee priests lived, Father Michel’s house with his office next door. And through a steel gate in a tall red brick fence was the compound where the nuns lived and worked.
The nuns kept vegetable gardens and chickens.
The priests kept goats and some cows.
Everything was shared. But they never drank the milk they collected.
They gave it all away to the poor.
All of it.
They were servants of God, walking in Jesus’ footsteps. Following his example.
Caring for the people.
All of the people.
All of the people. Men, women, children, Hutu, Tutsi, Twa.
All of them.
© James Roy & Noel Zihabamwe