Friday, May 17, 2013

An Author a Day for Thirty Days: Day 17

I don’t want to brag, but Philip Gourevitch and I once had a really stimulating conversation at the Continental Club here in Austin during our book festival. I remember it perfectly:

Me: Uh, hey, uh um, I uh der uh….der der der. You write good. Sign book please?
PG: Thank you.

Not as bad as I remember now that I look back! I wonder if he thinks about that night. Probably.

I don’t write about Gourevitch as much as I should, but I really think he’s amazing. He’s written two books that have absolutely ruined my life. The 1998 classic, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, is an unflinching, heart wrenching, account of the over 800,000 deaths during the Rwandan genocide (and those who stood on the sidelines). 

The second book of his that wrecked me was The Ballad of Abu Ghraib (previously published as Standard Operating Procedure). Yes, it’s as dark as you can imagine. It not only paints a portrait of torture, but a reality check of what war does to people. Back home we have a hard time reconciling the pictures of the nice young men and women we patted on the back and sent off to ‘fight for our freedom’ and the photographs of them grinning ear to ear as they torture another human being.

Both of these books make my all time favorite non-fiction list, absolutely. They were two of the most difficult books I’ve ever had to read, but you have to read them. You have to be a witness.

I think of him as a more intense Jon Krakauer, so if you’re a Krakauer fan, Gourevitch won’t disappoint.  

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