This tranquil Sunday, a former minister of justice is warming up energetically on the diving board. He does not realize that his strenuous exercises are eliciting giggles from the two prostitutes from whom he is expecting a sign of recognition or interest before diving into the water. He wants to beguile because he doesn't want to pay. He hits the water like a disjointed clown. The girls laugh. The paras too.
Around the pool, Québécois and Belgian aid workers vie in loud laughter. The Belgians and Québécois aren't friends; they don't work together, even though they are working toward the same goal: 'development.' That magic word which dresses up the best and most irrelevant of intentions. The two groups are rivals, always explaining to the locals why their kind of development is better than the others'. The only thing they have in common is the din they make. There ought to be a word for the atmosphere surrounding these Whites who talk, laugh and drink in a way that makes the whole pool know their importance -- no, not even that -- just their vacuous existence. Let's use the word 'noisiness' because there's certainly noise, but it's continuous, there's a permanence to it, a perpetual squawking. In this shy, reticent and often deceptive country, they live in a state of noisiness, like noisy animals. They are also in continuous rut. Noise is their breathing, silence their death, and the asses of Rwandan women their territory of exploration. They are noisy explorers of Third World asses. Only the Germans, when they descend on the hotel in force like a battalion of moralizing accountants, can match the Belgians and Québécois in noisiness.
Important Frenchmen don't stay at this hotel. They dig themselves in at the Méridien with high-class Rwandans and clean hookers who sip whisky. The hookers at this hotel are rarely clean. They drink Pepsi while waiting to be picked up and offered a local beer, which may get them offered a whisky or a vodka later on. But these women are realists, so today they'll settle for a Pepsi and a john.
Valcourt, who is also Québécois but has almost forgotten it over the years, observes these things and notes them down, muttering as he does so, sometimes angrily, sometimes with tenderness, but always audibly. For all anyone knows or imagines, he's writing about them, and everyone wants someone to ask him what he's writing, and worries about this book he's been writing since the Project left him more or less high and dry. Sometimes he even pretends to be writing, in order to show he's alive, watchful and serious like the disillusioned philosopher he claims to be when he runs out of excuses for himself. He's not writing a book. He writes to put in time between mouthfuls of beer, or to signal that he doesn't want to be disturbed. Rather like a buzzard on a branch, in fact, Valcourt is waiting for a scrap of life to excite him and make him unfold his wings.
At the end of the terrace, walking slowly and grandly, appears a Rwandan just back from Paris. You can tell, because his sporty outfit is so new its yellows and greens are blinding, even for sunglass-protected eyes. There's sniggering at a table of expatriates. Admiration at several tables of locals. The Rwandan just back from Paris is afloat on a magic carpet. From the handle of his crocodile attaché case dangle First Class and Hermès labels. In his pocket, along with other prestige labels, he probably has an import licence for some product of secondary necessity, which he will sell at a premium price.
He orders a "verbena-mint" at such volume that three ravens depart the nearest tree. Gentille, who has just completed her social service studies and is interning at the hotel, doesn't know what a verbena-mint is. Intimidated, she whispers -- so softly she can't even hear herself -- that there are only two brands of beer, Primus and Mutzig. The Rwandan on his magic carpet is not listening and replies that of course he wants the best, even if it's more expensive. So Gentille will bring him a Mutzig, which for some is the best and for everyone more expensive. Valcourt scribbles feverishly. He describes the scene with indignation, adding some notes about the outrageousness of African corruption, but he does not stir.
Excerpted from A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche Copyright© 2003 by Gil Courtemanche. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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"The novel of the year" is what La Presse called this extraordinary book-a love story that takes place during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda-by one of French Canada's most admired journalists.
The swimming pool of the Mille-Collines hotel is a magnet for a motley group of Kigali residents: aid workers, Rwandan bourgeoisie, expatriates and prostitutes. Among these patrons is the hotel waitress, Gentille, a beautiful Hutu often mistaken for a Tutsi, who has long been admired by Bernard Valcourt, a foreign journalist.
As the two slide into a love affair and prepare for their wedding, we see the world around them coming apart as the Hutu-led genocide against the Tutsi people begins. Tensions mount, friends are brutally murdered and unbridled violence takes over. Gentille and Valcourt attempt to flee the country to safety but are separated--and it will be months before Valcourt learns of Gentille's shocking fate.
With profound compassion and skill, Gil Courtemanche tells a story of love against all odds set amid one of the most horrific--and overlooked--chapters in recent history. Awarded Canada's prestigious Prix des Libraires du Québec in 2001, A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali introduces American audiences to a brilliant new novelist.
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Gil Courtemanche (Jjjill Cortmonsh) is a well-known French Canadian journalist specializing in international and third-world politics, and an author of several non-fiction works. His first novel, Un dimanche à la piscine à Kigali spent more than a year on Quebec bestseller lists, has been translated to many languages and is being adapted for a feature film. He has also made an award-winning film called The Gospel of AIDS.