Hatzfeld, Jean 1949-

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Hatzfeld, Jean 1949-


Born 1949, in Madagascar; son of a teacher (father).


Home—Paris, France, and Rwanda, Africa.


Writer, journalist, and television director. Libération (daily newspaper), France, journalist and war correspondent, beginning 1973; left daily journalism, c. 2006. Directed four television documentaries.


Prix Culture 2000, Prix Pierre Mille, and Prix France Culture, all 2000, all for Dans le nu de la vie; Prix Femina, essay category, 2003, and Prix Jossef Kessel, 2004, both for Une saison de machetes; Prix le Médicis, 2007, for La stratégie des antilopes; Lettre Ulysses Award.


(Translator) Helleniques, Les Belles Lettres (Paris, France), 1966.

History of Ancient Greece, revised by Andre Aymard, translated by A.C. Harrison, edited by E.H. Goddard, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1966.

Les trafiquants italiens dans l'orient hellenique, Arno Press (New York, NY), 1975.

L'air de la guerre: Sur les routes de Croatie et de Bosnie-Herzégovine, Editions de L'Olivier (Paris, France), 1994.

La guerre au bord du fleuve (novel), Editions de L'Olivier (Paris, France), 1999.

Dans le nu de la vie: Récits des marais rwandais, Seuil (Paris, France), 2000, translated as Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide—The Survivors Speak, Trans-Atlantic Publications, 2005, published as Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak, Other Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Une saison de machettes: Récits, Seuil (Paris, France), 2003, translated as Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak; A Report, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.

La ligne de flottaison (novel), Seuil (Paris, France), 2005.

La stratégie des antilopes, Seuil (Paris, France), 2007.

Contributor to L'Autre Journal, Géo, Actuel, Rolling Stone, and Autrement.


Jean Hatzfeld was born in Madagascar but later moved with his family when they returned to the Auvergne region of France. He worked as a journalist for the French daily Libération from 1973 until sometime in the 1990s, and covered political upheavals in postcommunist Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, and Romania. He also served as a war correspondent in the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia, where he was injured in a Kalashnikov attack. His first two books are set in the former Yugoslavia: L'air de la guerre: Sur les routes de Croatie et de Bosnie-Herzégovine and the novel La guerre au bord du fleuve. Other work has taken Hatzfeld to Haiti, Congo, Algeria, Burundi, and Iran. In 1994, Hatzfeld reported on the genocide taking place in the African country of Rwanda. He later decided to concentrate all of his work on this subject and quit his job as a daily reporter. In the award-winning book Dans le nu de la vie: Récits des marais rwandais, which was translated as Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide—The Survivors Speak, he collects stories from Tutsi survivors. The book was followed by Une saison de machettes: Récits, which also won awards in France. This publication offers the perspective of ten Hutu men who killed their Tutsi neighbors.

Une saison de machettes was translated as Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak; A Report. The title refers to the speed of the slaughter and a common method of killing in which victims were literally hacked to pieces with heavy machetes. During the course of three months, about 800,000 Rwandans from the Tutsi tribe were killed by fellow citizens from the Hutu tribe. Because many of the murderers were poor farmers, they were skilled with machetes and often used them to cut down their victims. Hatzfeld interviewed ten Hutu men from the village of Nyamata who had taken part in the killing, these discussions taking place while they were serving sentences in prison. The men reveal how government radio propaganda and financial incentives were perhaps more important than coercion in turning Hutus against Tutsis. They also show a shocking lack of guilt, as well as a surprising expectation of being forgiven upon their release.

In reviews, the translation was described as an important, unusual, and frightening book. "Hatzfeld has a remarkable ability to pry into the killer's memory and conscience," a Publishers Weekly critic remarked. In Kirkus Reviews a critic called the book "a trove for future historians and ethnographers … and eye-opening, sobering reading for the rest of us." Washington Post writer Alison Des Forges commented that "this imperfect but devastating book tells us more about the how of genocide than the why. It lets us listen to the bean farmers but tells us too little about their fears to make us understand why these ordinary people committed extraordinary crimes." According to Salon.com reviewer Suzy Hansen, "Machete Season is realistic and, above all else, terrifying; Hatzfeld brilliantly organises his subjects' stories for maximum effect. His method captures the rhythm of a genocide—the cold, workmanlike, fierce nature of its repetition."

In Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak, Hatzfeld delves into the opposite site of the 1994 Rwandan genocide by presenting the stories of numerous victims and survivors of the violence. His book contains firsthand accounts of the genocide from fourteen Tutsi men, women, and children who managed to stay alive during the bloodshed, as their once-friendly Hutu neighbors turned on them with lethal intent. For each chapter, Hatzfeld provides an introductory essay; however, in the narratives themselves, he steps aside and lets the subject's own words convey the horror of the events. They describe how the Hutu killers arrived in the morning, singing and whistling, and commenced their gruesome work. A Tutsi survivor named Rwililiza, a teacher, explains how beer saved his life; after nights of celebratory drinking, the Hutus were less effective killers the next day. In all, some 10,000 Tutsis were killed during the genocide. Christine Nyiransabimana was a mixed-race girl in the fifth grade during the violence; her father was slain by a machete-wielding Hutu, and she herself was threatened because of her mixed Tutsi-Hutu heritage. Anglique Mukamanzi, another survivor, considers the profound psychological effects of surviving such a terrible event. "Hatzfeld is to be commended for helping to preserve crucial eyewitness testimony and for sharing it with what one hopes will be a very large audience," remarked a Kirkus Reviews critic. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that "Hatzfeld's wrenching collection compels an active response to the genocides occurring today."

Hatzfeld told CA: "I don't know what first got me interested in writing because I've written since adolescence. It was probably because I didn't like to speak; probably also to feel less alone or to try to charm the girls. Now, it's a wonderful job for me; I am unable to do anything else. As a journalist, my main influence is the American tradition of writer/novelist/reporter in the last century; as novelist, I don't know—so many writers. There are two surprising things I've learned as a writer: First, the ideas come often when writing, not before; and secondly, the writer never knows how his book, or his report, will be read."



Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2005, review of Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak; A Report, p. 399; August 15, 2007, review of Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak.

Publishers Weekly, April 4, 2005, review of Machete Season, p. 50; August 20, 2007, review of Life Laid Bare, p. 56.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 26, 2005, Austin Merrill, "The Rwandan Story in the Words of the Killers," review of Machete Season.

Washington Post Book World, August 21, 2005, Alison Des Forges, review of Machete Season, p. 3.


Bibliomonde,http://www.bibliomonde.com/ (January 1, 2008), biography of Jean Hatzfeld.

Bookslut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (October 8, 2005), Sarah Statz, review of Machete Season.

Lettre Ulysses Award Web site,http://www.lettre-ulysses-award.org/ (January 1, 2008), biography of Jean Hatzfeld.

Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (July 20, 2005), Suzy Hansen, "Conversations with Mass Murderers," review of Machete Season.