Into the Quick of Life


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Into the Quick of Life by Jean Hatzfeld

Translated from the French by Gerry Feehily

Published by Serpent’s Tail


Five out of six Tutsis were hacked to death with machetes and spears by their Hutu neighbours.  In the villages of Nyamata and N’tarama, where, in the first two days of the genocide, over 10,000 Tutsis were massacred in the churches where they sought refuge, Jean Hatzfeld interviewed some of the survivors.

Of all ages, from different walks of life, from orphan teenage farmers to the local social worker, fourteen survivors talk of the genocide, the death of family and friends in the church and in the marshes of Bugesera to which they fled.  They also talk of their present life and try to explain and understand the reasons behind the extermination.  These horrific accounts of life at the very edge contrast with Hatzfeld’s own sensitive and vivid descriptions of Rwanda’s villages and countryside in peacetime.  Into the Quick of Life brings us, in the author’s own words, ‘as close to [the event] as we can ever get’.


 Jean Hatzfeld was born in Madagascar in 1949, where his father was a teacher.  His Jewish parents had moved there seven years earlier, fleeing from the Nazis, but he and his family eventually returned to the Auvergne region.  After having various jobs, Jean Hatzfeld started to work as journalist for the French daily Libération in 1977.  He also contributed to other newspapers and magazines, such as L’Autre Journal, Géo, Actuel, Rolling Stones, Autrement; and he has directed four TV documentaries.  

As a special correspondent and war reporter, Hatzfeld travelled extensively throughout Eastern European countries, from the advent of Solidarnosc in Poland until the fall of Berlin’s Wall.  He covered the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in former Czechoslovakia and the fall of the Ceausescu regime in Romania.

For 25 years, since the end of 1970s, he mainly worked in the war-affected countries of the Middle East, in Lebanon, Israel and recently in Iraq.  He spent three years in countries of Former Yugoslavia, between Vukovar and Sarajevo.  In Sarajevo he was seriously injured through a Kalashnikov salvo.  Hatzfeld published two books set against this background: L’Air de la guerre (1994), evoking his experiences in the former Yugoslavia; and La guerre au bord du fleuve (1999), a novel inspired by the war. He also worked in Haiti, Congo, Algeria, Burundi and Iran.

In 1994, Jean Hatzfeld travelled to Rwanda to report about the massacre there, and its aftermath, for Libération.  He later decided to leave daily journalism in order to focus solely on research into the genocide.  He published Dans le nu de la vie in 2000, in which he reports the stories of Tutsi survivors.  The volume was awarded the Prix Culture 2000, the Prix Pierre Mille and the Prix France Culture. Hatzfeld said that after the publication of his first volume, readers expressed interest in hearing the voices of the Hutu perpetrators.  Two years later, his conversations with condemned Hutus culminated in Une Saison de machettes, for which he won the essay category of the Prix Femina in 2003 and the Prix Jossef Kessel in 2004.

Jean Hatzfeld divides his time between Rwanda and Paris.

Jean Hatzfeld is the winner of the 2006  T.R. Fyvel Book Award – Free expression award from Index on Censorship – for his books Into The Quick of Life and A Time for Machetes.

How is Writers in Translation supporting Into the Quick of Life?

  • An event to mark the publication of the book: Jean Hatzfeld in conversation with Lt General Romeo Dallaire, author of SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL about the Rwandan genocide on 30 August 2005 at Foyles. The event was chaired by the journalist and writer Linda Melvern and was in association with Survivors Fund (a charitable organisation dedicated to aiding and assisting the survivors of the Rwandan genocide.)
  • Jean Hatzfeld also gave a talk with photographer Nic Dunlop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 28 August 2005

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