Book review: Frida

Frida: chosen to die, destined to live. By Frida Gashumba, with Sandy Waldron. Sovereign World, 2007, 169pp.

After years of fearful living and daily discrimination, because they are Tutsi, Frida, at age 14, is thrown unconscious with all other members of her family into a shallow grave near their home in rural Rwanda. But Frida, and only Frida, survives.

The graphic story, which comes from the writer’s clear and vivid memories, makes up the first half of the book; I felt I was right there with her through those frightening and challenging times.

Face of Frida
Frida’s own story of survival

The second half of the book is a rollercoaster ride: Frida facing life alone, rejecting then accepting a life of faith, struggling to forgive, being wooed and courted into marriage, a traumatic and lonely pregnancy, a desire to counsel and heal others. Finally, after all the ups-and-downs of these experiences, Frida is gently led to experience her own healing of emotions.

Frida is powerful, unflinching and confronting. It is the best explanation I’ve read of what it was like to be in the middle of the fearful attacks of the bloodthirsty militia, of what it was like to be betrayed by your own neighbours and friends, and of what it was like for a battered teenager with life-threatening injuries to climb out of the grave and continue her desperate attempts to evade the attackers and slowly return to life.

I bought a copy of this book on the night I met Frida when I heard her tell her story; she was brimful of life and compassion. Whilst her family was obliterated in the killings she was able to give a thorough description of the sad story, and the role her speaking played in the local justice tribunals (gacaca), which nevertheless has a less than satisfactory outcome for her.

The 14 well written chapters are divided almost equally into:

  • the building of tension in the lead up to terror,
  • surviving the genocide experience,
  • becoming a Christian believer,
  • struggling to offer forgiveness to perpetrators,
  • marriage, childbirth and adoption of an orphan, and
  • personal healing through grief and understanding emotions

Despite 15 years of contact and involvement in Rwanda this book satisfyingly filled out some details I had never been able to grasp. It stands alongside the well known Left to Tell [Immaculèe Illibagiza] as a classic on forgiveness after genocide, and adds useful detail to two other important writings about Rwanda’s experience and recovery: Shake hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallairè and The Gacaca Courts: Justice without Lawyers by Phil Clark. (Look for summaries of these three books on this site).

Reflection by John Steward Ph.D. April 2015.

John

Born in Adelaide, South Australia
Grew up in Java, Indonesia
Educated high school and agriculture in Adelaide
Theological education in Brisbane
Overseas experience in Asia and Africa, North America and Europe