An Ordinary Man
April 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide--Read more about the conflict and the amazing life story of the man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda in this remarkable account Readers who were moved and horrified by Hotel Rwanda will respond even more intensely to Paul Rusesabagina’s unforgettable autobiography. As Rwanda was thrown into chaos during the 1994 genocide, Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, turned the luxurious Hotel Milles Collines into a refuge for more than 1,200 Tutsi and moderate Hutu refugees, while fending off their would-be killers with a combination of diplomacy and deception. In An Ordinary Man, he tells the story of his childhood, retraces his accidental path to heroism, revisits the 100 days in which he was the only thing standing between his “guests” and a hideous death, and recounts his subsequent life as a refugee and activist.
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The highlighted statement echoes the tone of the excerpt from Albert Camus' The Plague that occupies the front pages of the book: "There was nothing admirable about this attitude; it was merely logical." How does this quote help set the author's tone?
According to the background information you just read at the USHMM's website, which of the following is a contributing factor to the artificial divide that the author calls a "leftover from history"?
Visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's website to learn more about the background to the Rwandan Genocide. As you read, pay careful attention to the origin of the conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu. (This annotation contains a link)
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
Which of the following does the author employ in his explanation of how he escaped persecution during the genocide?
The highlighted selection reveals the power of propaganda. Visit the online exhibit in the link below to learn more about propaganda and its connection to genocide. (This annotation contains a link)
What does Rusesabagina offer as an explanation for the start of the genocide? How does this same thing end up being the reason he manages to stay alive? In your answer consider the power of propaganda that you learned about in the online exhibit at the USHMM website.
Watch the video below to learn about tone and mood. How does the author use this background information about his childhood in Rwanda to set a certain mood? What do you think the author's tone is? (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following aspects of the setting best conveys the author's tone?
Why do you think the author includes an explanation of this game? What important concepts does it highlight about Rwandan children and humanity in general? As you continue reading, think about how the memories Rusesabagina includes in this autobiography help develop the themes of the book.
What could the author's explanation of the process of making banana beer symbolize?
Summarize the author's explanation of the differences between Rwandan and Western systems of justice.
Bonne année is a French expression for Happy New Year. Belgium was the occupying power in Rwanda for so long that French is one of the official languages of the country.
The image below is of Rwandan's fleeing into neighboring Congo during the 1994 genocide. The 1959 Revolution claimed the lives of 20,000-100,000 Rwandans and many more were forced to flee their homes. How does this image compare to the author's explanation of the refugees? (This annotation contains an image)
What is the meaning of the author's simile in the highlighted sentence?
Explain how Rusesabagina develops his tone in the paragraphs about Speke. Include a discussion of what his tone is and point to specific instances in the text which reveal the tone.
Lake Victoria is a large lake that sits within three different countries in Africa. How does the author use information such as Speke's discovery of Lake Victoria to develop his tone? (This annotation contains an image)
Watch the video below to learn about theme. What themes do you see developing in this autobiography? (This annotation contains a video)
Why does Rusesabagina say that Rwanda "fared well" during its occupation by Germany?
Apartheid is usually a term used to refer to South Africa's system of racially segregated government that existed up until the 1990s. What is the effect of the use of that word here?
Use the dictionary feature to look up the word foment. Which of the following is an antonym for foment?
How does this view of education differ from your own? How do you think it differs from the majority of students in the US? What makes education a luxury in Rwanda?
What is the role of the luxury hotel in impoverished nations? How does Rusesabagina hint at the negative impact of luxury hotels?
You can view a picture of the hotel below. How does the image compare to the author's descriptions of the hotel? (This annotation contains an image)
What does the location of these important meetings symbolize?
How does the author use these stories to characterize himself? What is important to him? How do you think these traits that are emphasized will come into play later in the story?
The author's surname __________ what is to come.
How does Rusesabagina capture the spirit of youth in the highlighted section? Are his words just about young Rwandan men, or do they apply to many different kinds of people in many different places?
Explain what the author means when he writes that the "irony of [his] country is that the capital is in this beautiful place because of the racial divide."
Consider what this reveals about resources and politics in Rwanda. Watch the video below about perspective and point of view. How does Rusesabagina's point of view seem objective and diplomatic? (This annotation contains a video)
With what does the author credit his time spent training to be a preacher?
The reference to Uncle Tom's Cabin is _____________________.
Notice how the author substantiates his claim that he was not a sell-out, or muzungu. How does his assessment of himself and the situation seem to be weighted with authority?
The reference to Uncle Tom is a reference to Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. This anti-slavery novel highlighted the negative aspects of slavery and is said to have laid the groundwork for the civil war. Uncle Tom was a black slave and the protagonist of the story. In more recent times, Uncle Tom refers to a black person who is seen as being too subservient to white people.
Given the context of this story, what do you think is the meaning of the parable "you might meet hyenas on the way to the hunt"? Why do you think Rusesabagina includes this parable in his memoir?
What other social practices can you think of that are used to smooth over negotiations? How does Rusesabagina characterize himself in this chapter and why does that seem important based on what you know is to come?
According to the website you just visited, who set up the RTLM?
Visit the following website to learn more about the read goal of the RTLM. As you read, consider Rusesabagina's initial reaction to the station compared to its purpose. (This annotation contains a link)
The RPF is made up of displaced Tutsis. As you read this paragraph again (as well as the following one) consider how the author characterizes the Rwandan Army (Hutu) and the RPF.
Which of the following conveys Rusesabagina's assertion that President Juvenal Habyarimana was corrupt?
Habyarimana is pictured below. (This annotation contains an image)
What is ironic about Habyarimana's promise to bring an end to violence?
Do you think the highlighted statement is true about politics in general? Consider American politics, especially the social and religious issues that seem to crop up in politics.
Use the define feature to look up the word exhorting. Which of the following is a synonym for exhorting?
To which stage of genocide is Rusesabagina referring when he mentions the role of the early radio programming and speech aimed at the Tutsis?
Visit the website below to learn about the stages of genocide. What stage do you think Rusesabagina is referring to here? (This annotation contains a link)
Rusesabagina suggests here that the arms used in the Rwandan Genocide were supplied from overseas. Why is this significant? Where does Rusesabagina say the cartons came from?
Based on what you have read so far, why might Rusesabagina be considered "threatening" to the Hutu regime?
Section One Quiz
Watch the video below to learn more about alliteration. Where do you see alliteration in the highlighted sentence? What is the effect of the sound device on the mood, tone, or meaning of the section? (This annotation contains a video)
What can you infer from this section?
What is the author's purpose in providing his readers with the information about Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh and Dallaire? What is Rusesabagina suggesting about the UN?
How does Rusesabagina seem to be characterizing the UN? Use evidence from the text as you compose your response.
The Arusha agreement or accords had been under negotiation for many years. President Habyarimana, representing the Rwandan government, was working on a peace accord with the RPF (The Rwandan Patriotic Front) rebel group.
Which of the following literary devices does the author employ in the highlighted sentence?
Visit the website in the link below to hear some of the testimony of General Romeo Dallaire. What does his brief testimony add to Rusesabagina's first accounts of the horror of the Rwandan genocide? (This annotation contains a link)
What does Rusesabagina suggest has happened to Marcel?
Rusesabagina's description of Brussels and the feeling of how drastically everything had changed in a matter of hours creates a sense of earth-shattering upheaval. How does the description of Brussels compare to his description of Kigali?
What is significant about the highlighted statement? What do you think Rusesabagina means to do?
This allusion to the folkloric demon character known as Mephistopheles is a reference to many important works of literature (Faust, Goethe). In numerous stories, Mephistopheles takes the form of the devil and often convinces other characters to sell their own souls to the devil in return for fortune or fame.
What does this saying suggest about the author's character?
Watch the video below to learn about characterization. What do Rusesabagina's actions and self-assessments say about him? (This annotation contains a video)
What is the tone of the highlighted statement?
The conversations Rusesabagina is having with men of power in this section underscore his ability to read people accurately and to use them for his needs. Remember that this is the very skill which Rusesabagina claims he was able to save the lives of so many Rwandans. As you continue reading, consider how close the author comes to failure in moments when the right words are needed most.
Use the dictionary feature to look up the word respite. Which of the following is an antonym for respite?
What are the reasons that Rusesabagina gives for why the Hotel Milles Collines was left alone during the start of the genocide?
Rusesabagina's criticism of the UN suggests that peacekeepers were more interested in their per diem (payment per day) than in helping to stop the genocide.
View the image below of an actual Rwandan refugee camp. As you continue to read, consider the differences between this image and the descriptions of the Hotel Milles Collines refugee camp. (This annotation contains an image)
Compared to what is going on in the world outside of the hotel, what do the actions and images presented in this section seem to represent?
This Old Testament allusion references a story in which there was only enough oil left in the temple to keep lamps burning for one night. Each night, the small oil container would be miraculously refilled. How does this reference impact the mood or tone of this section?
Which literary device is the author employing in the highlighted sentence?
The Interhamwe (Kinyarwandan for those who stand/work/fight/attack together) were originally a Hutu paramilitary group formed by Habyarimana. During the genocide, they often took the form of violent street gangs. What does it say about the renegade employees that Rusesabagina would compare the two? (This annotation contains an image)
What is the effect of the repetition of phrases and words in the interchange between Rusesabagina and the typical white house staffer?
Thomas Kamilindi is the author of several works on Hate Media as a weapon. How does Rusesabagina characterize him in this section? (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following can you infer is the reason Thomas is referred to as a dog?
The examples that Rusesabagina uses help connect the reader to his commentary on the human psyche. What is it that he says ultimately drives human action?
Explain what Rusesabagina means when he says, "Even the best of us can be slaves to our self-regard." Use examples from the text to support your answer.
What other tools can you think of that Rusesabagina has mentioned as tools of life and death? How do words fall into this category?
Which of the following could be used in place of reneged in the highlighted sentence?
Watch the following video on irony. How is Rusesabagina's example a case of irony? (This annotation contains a video)
What can you infer about Father Munyegeshaka?
Section Two Quiz
Is there always a clear difference between victims and perpetrators? How do the events related in this part of the story as well as in the eyewitness testimonies change your understanding of the severity of the Rwandan genocide?
Visit the website below to listen to the story of Fifi Mukangoga. As you listen, consider the power of telling the stories of these atrocious events. What role do victims play now, after the genocide is over? (This annotation contains a link)
Visit the Washington Post website in the link below to read a brief article concerning the United States' failure to act during what has been called the Syrian genocide (beginning in 2012). How and why is the Rwandan genocide mentioned in this article? (This annotation contains a link)
What does the Washington Post suggest is the major failure of the US in both the Rwandan genocide and the Syrian conflict?
Consider Rusesabagina's diction in the highlighted paragraph. Though he does use some figurative language, his sentences are short, mostly direct, and simple. What effect does this have on the tone of this fairly frightening scene?
What is Rusesabagina relying on when he calls the Colonel?
Napoleon Bonaparte was a military leader who rose to power during the French Revolution. Napoleon often symbolizes military genius and political power. What does this reference suggest about Paul Kagame? Why is this particular reference appropriate given Rwanda's colonial history? (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Bizimungu refer to himself as a soldier and claim "We lost this war a long time ago"?
Consider Rusesabagina's rationalization for not being able to leave the guests, the hotel, or Rwanda. What does this say about his character? What reasons does he give for not being able to go? Are they selfish or selfless?
Why is Paul Rusesabagina thankful that he is not the one who has to make the list of people who can be evacuated?
Watch the film clip of the scene just described in the book. As you watch, consider the differences in portrayal of events. (This annotation contains a video)
How does the video portrayal of the evacuation scene compare to the description in words? What do each of the versions do best?
What does it say about Rusesbagina that he trusts the rebels more than the UN to protect his family? What does it say about the nature of the conflict that Rusesabagina has to tread so carefully regarding relationships with rebel groups, the UN, the government?
Which of the following best describes the difference between the emotions of the goodbyes during the evacuation and the emotions during the previous night's blood pact?
Use the Define feature to look up the word ruefully. Why does Rusesabagina use this word in reference to the feelings he would have if he survived?
What do Bizimungu's statements reveal about the conflict?
Visit the BBC site below to read about Bizimungu's capture. How does the article characterize Bizimungu? (This annotation contains a link)
How does Rusesabagina's characterization of Bizimungu compare to that of the BBC article's? How can you account for that difference?
Reread the highlighted section. How do Rusesabagina's words express an overwhelming sense of grief and loss? How might he have said this differently? Would it be as effective said any other way?
Use the define feature to look up the word purloined. Which of the following is an antonym for purloined?
Consider the power of this statement. In just a month's time, so much has happened- so many tragic events. What is the impact of the fact that this line occupies and constitutes its own paragraph? What effect does it have on you as a reader?
Which of the following literary devices does the author use twice in the highlighted paragraph?
Read the article in the link below to learn more about the fates of Rwandan orphans. (This annotation contains a link)
What is the mood of the highlighted paragraph?
Brussels is the capital of Belgium. How do you think the author and his family felt when moving from Rwanda to a populous capital such as Brussels? Besides overcoming the memories of the genocide, what other kinds of adjustments do you imagine they had to make? (This annotation contains an image)
What does Rusesabagina suggest is the underlying cause of the Rwandan genocide?
Why does Rusesabagina offer the update about President Bill Clinton in the midst of all of these updates about people from the book? What does the structure and tone of the paragraph suggest about the author's feelings towards the US President?
Which of the following themes is the author developing here?
The image below shows Rusesabagina receiving a medal from US President George Bush. How does the author seem to feel about the title of hero? (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is present in the highlighted sentence?
Never Again is the slogan of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum as well as of countless other anti-genocide campaigns. Consider Rusesabagina's thoughts about this slogan and about what must happen in order for it to remain viable? (This annotation contains an image)
How does Rusesbagina characterize the reparations process that is still occurring after the Rwandan genocide?
As of 2014, Paul Kagame was still the President of Rwanda. You can visit his Facebook page in the link below. What does Rusesabagina seem to be suggesting about Kagame and his current role in the post-genocide government. (This annotation contains a link)
What do Rusesabagina's words suggest about his concerns for Rwanda's future?
The author mentions frequently in this book that words are highly powerful, for both good and evil. How has he used words in this book? Use evidence from the text in your analysis.
Section Three Quiz