Sometimes we read books to escape, but sometimes we read books to learn. And that’s mostly what this list of books about Rwanda is for. Rwanda is a fascinating country with a traumatic history. You probably best know it for the 1994 genocide, where Hutus murdered their Tsutsi neighbors in massive numbers. (If you are unfamiliar with that event, aside from these books I also highly recommend the Frontline documentary Ghosts of Rwanda, which I think I watched in about three different high school classes.)
But of course the history is deeper than just that event. And the culture and geography of Rwanda also offers the stories of mountain gorillas and African folktales. If you want to learn more about Rwanda, then this book list is a great place to start.
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Fiction Set in Rwanda
Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin
In Kigali, Angel’s kitchen becomes the center of her family and community. And for those that gather to eat her cakes and listen to Angel’s wisdom, unexpected events begin to take place and their lives are changed. For fans of warm, big-hearted novels that also deal with serious issues.
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche, Translated by Patricia Claxton
Bernard Valcourt is a foreign journalist at a hotel in Kigali who begins a relationship with hotel waitress Gentille, a Tutsi woman. When the genocide begins, Bernard tries to help Gentille escape. But things don’t go as planned. For fans of contemporary and literary fiction.
Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga
Set 15 years before Rwanda’s genocide, this boarding school novel reveals the Hutu and Tutsi tensions as reflected in the lives of young women at the school. There are Hutus learning prejudice, Tutsis trying to find their place in a school where they are discriminated against, and a country heading toward civil war. For fans of literary fiction and boarding school novels.
Small Country by Gaël Faye
While this novel is technically set in Burundi, Rwanda is an important part of this story. Gabriel is 10 years old and has a happy childhood in Burundi with his Rwandan mother and French father. But soon Burundi, and then Rwanda, erupt in war and unrest and Gabriel’s life is upended. For fans of literary fiction.
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
Jean Patrick Nkuba is determined to be an Olympic runner, and he spends his days running across his country. But he is a Tutsi in a Rwanda that is growing increasingly hostile to his ethnic group, and his dedication to his sport just might save him. For fans of contemporary novels.
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
This novel begins with the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta, when a woman moves to Africa after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and then takes us all the way to post-genocide Rwanda, when another woman travels to Rwanda searching for her father. This novel brings together three women and their history in a country trying to heal. For fans of literary and historical fiction.
Get more book lists! Check out these books set in South Africa!
Non-Fiction Books About Rwanda
Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga, Translated by Jordan Stump
Rwandan-born author Scholastique Mukasonga has become a well-known literary voice when it comes to the genocide. In this brief book she tells not just her family’s story of that event, but delves into her family’s exile in Rwanda in the 1960s. This is for readers who want short and reflective books and don’t mind trauma.
The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga, Translated by Jordan Stump
Another book from Mukasonga, this short non-fiction title focuses on the life of her mother and the strength to survive she showed during their exile within Rwanda. She tells about life in the exile village, from the way women banded together to how they grew the crops they needed. While it is bookended with mentions of the genocide, this book is good for readers who want to learn more about Rwanda but aren’t sure they can handle the trauma found in the pages of Mukasonga’s Cockroaches.
Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
Beginning in 1967, Dian Fossey dedicated her life to studying Rwanda’s mountain gorillas. She founded the Karisoke Research Center and spent her time contacting gorillas groups and working to stop poaching. This is her memoir of her time in Rwanda, and is both a fascinating story of a woman’s dedication and the behavior of gorillas. The fact that this book was written both before Fossey was murdered in 1985 and before the genocide of 1994 lends a bit of foreboding to this reading experience. This book is for fans of animals and books about subjects you didn’t know you wanted to know so much about.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
Clemantine Wamariya escaped the 1994 genocide with her sister, Claire. But their future afterwards had its own share of hardships: poverty, abuse, and refugee camps. Eventually they made their way to the U.S., and Clemantine went on to find a loving family and graduate from Yale. This is a story about immigration and what it takes to rebuild your life after unthinkable tragedy. For fans of memoirs
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
In this award winning book, Gourevitch collects stories of the 1994 genocide, both from the victims and the perpetrators. There are chilling accounts, but he also looks into the future, wondering what will become of Rwanda post-genocide and if the nation can find a hopeful future. (And if you read it, it’s important to note it was published in 1999, so Rwanda has now had more than two decades to answer this question.) For fans of non-fiction and real-life accounts of true events.
A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It by Stephen Kinzer
This book focuses on the life on Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, beginning when he was almost killed with his family in the “practice genocide” of 1959. And while it details his life, it is also an account of Rwanda’s history, the years of tension that led to genocide, and what Rwanda’s future may look like. For fans of biographies and politics.
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld
Several years after the 1994 genocide, Jean Hatzfeld traveled to Rwanda and spent time interviewing Hutus who had participated in the massacres, trying to understand how humanity broke down so fully. Readers describe this book as chilling, and it’s definitely for people who can confront the worst of humanity.
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld, Translated by Linda Coverdale
In a follow-up to Machete Season, here Hatzfeld speaks to survivors of the genocide, recounting their horrifying tales. He focuses on one area of Rwanda in-particular, the Bugesera, which was one of the hardest hit with the killings. This book is for you if you want real-life accounts of what living through the genocide was like.
The Antelope’s Strategy: Living in Rwanda After the Genocide by Jean Hatzfeld, Translated by Linda Coverdale
Another book by Hatzfeld, in this one we get stories from both Tutsis and Hutus who are living together side-by-side in a post-genocide Rwanda. Hatzfeld’s interviews with these Rwandans reveal the challenges they face in trying to find reconciliation and whether or not they will be able to move on. (Note that this was released in 2010.) For readers interested in humanity, sociology, and what it takes to live into the future after trauma.
Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Roméo Dallaire
Before the genocide happened, the UN sent peacekeepers to the country hoping to ease tensions. Despite their efforts, the mission largely failed. Dallaire was the force commander for the UN during the genocide, and in this memoir he conveys what he witnessed, the efforts he made to save people while being denied resources, and his PTSD that resulted from his experience there. For fans of military-related memoirs.
Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story…and Why It Matters Today by Edouard Kayihura and Kerry Zukus
If you saw the movie Hotel Rwanda, this book is a good example why it’s important to take the history we learn from Hollywood with a grain of salt. Many genocide survivors who were at the famous Hotel des Milles Collines have issues with the way their experience, and the life of the man who ran the hotel, were portrayed. For readers who want to dig deeper into this historical event.
Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda by Rosamond Halsey Carr
In 1949, Rosamond Halsey Carr moved to Africa with her husband. When they divorced some years later, she bought a flower plantation in Rwanda and continued living there. In this account of her life and her time in Rwanda we get everything from wildlife encounters, her friendship with Dian Fossey, her experience in the genocide, and the orphanage she ran after the genocide. For fans of autobiography and memoir.
Road Trip Rwanda: A Journey Into the New Heart of Africa by Will Ferguson
Twenty years after the genocide, Will Ferguson travels to Rwanda along with a friend who had escaped the country just before the genocide began. They spend their time traveling across the country, seeing how it has changed since the historic massacres. For fans of travel memoirs.
“A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power
If you want to understand more about genocide and America’s failure to act to stop genocides in other countries, you’ll want to read this book from Samantha Power. Here she focuses on both the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda and examines where and why America failed to intervene. For fans of political books.
Children’s Books About Rwanda
Sebgugugu the Glutton: A Bantu Tale from Rwanda by Verna Aardema, Illustrated by Nancy L. Clouse
Finding children’s books about Rwanda is not an easy challenge, but this older book (which, interestingly, came out before the genocide) offers a traditional folktale from Rwanda for kids about a greedy man who won’t listen to his wife. Recommended ages: 5-8 years.
Gorillas – Gentle Giants of the Forest by Joyce Milton, Illustrated by Bryn Barnard
If you want to teach your kids about Rwanda, gorillas are a great kid-friendly place to go. This book shares interesting gorilla facts in text that parents can either read aloud or newly independent readers can read for themselves. Recommended ages: 5-8 years.
Middle Grade and YA Books About Rwanda
Unforgotten -The Wild Life of Dian Fossey and Her Relentless Quest to Save Mountain Gorillas by Anita Silvey
This National Geographic Kids book explores the life of Dian Fossey and her determination to study and save mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The book includes photographs kids will love and tells the story of her work and connection with the gorillas. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.
Primates -The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani, Illustrated by Maris Wicks
While this book isn’t entirely about Rwanda, a good chunk of it, the part following Dian Fossey, is. This graphic novel follows these three famous primatologists as they embark on their research, face challenges, and make important scientific discoveries. Recommended ages: 12-18 years.
Broken Memory: A Novel of Rwanda by Elisabeth Combres
Young adult novels about Rwanda are (like children’s books) a little hard to find. But this one, about a girl who escapes after her mother is killed and must learn to heal from the trauma she has witnessed, might fit the bill if you are looking for a Rwanda book for teenagers. Recommended ages: 13-17 years.
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