Hatzfeld, Jean 1949–
Hatzfeld, Jean 1949–
PERSONAL: Born 1949, in Madagascar.
ADDRESSES: Home—Paris, France. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003.
CAREER: Journalist. Libération (daily newspaper), France, journalist, beginning 1977; left daily journalism, c. 1994. Directed four television documentaries.
AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Culture 2000, Prix Pierre Mille, and Prix France Culture, all for Dans le nu de la vie, 2000; Prix Femina, essay category, 2003, and Prix Jossef Kessel, 2004, both for Une saison de machettes.
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.
Contributor to L'Autre Journal, Géo, Actuel, Rolling Stone, and Autrement.
SIDELIGHTS: 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 1977 until sometime in the 1990s, and covered political upheavals in 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 have taken Hatzfeld to Haiti, Congo, Algeria, Burundi, and Iran. In 1994 Hatzfeld reported on the genocide taking place in 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. 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 propaganda on talk radio 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."
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."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2005, review of Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak: A Report, p. 399.
Publishers Weekly, April 4, 2005, review of Machete Season, p. 50.
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.
Bookslut, http://www.bookslut.com/ (October 8, 2005), Sarah Statz, review of Machete Season.
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (July 20, 2005), Suzy Hansen, "Conversations with Mass Murderers," review of Machete Season.