So Joy ends the Very Special Flashback Sequence, getting rather emotional about it. I will admit, she has the right to be emotional about it, but you’d think Tor, who is the one who actually lived through it, would be more so.

John, who I remind you is narrating all this after the events of the book have happened, tells the readers that Joy will not die happy. Nice job spoiling the fate of a main character for us, Rummel. Now it won’t be shocking when she dies.

By the way, even though Joy has lived in America for practically her whole life, and speaks perfect English, John still feels the need to describe her as “exotic”. Yeah…

The limousine conveniently arrives at its destination. Not counting the Very Special Flashback Sequence, the limousine ride lasted only a couple of pages. Strangely enough, they’ve stopped at a farmhouse. What, does Joy’s family own a plantation or something?

For the first time, we see Tor in person.1 Apparently, her voice is still “youthful and sweet”. Now, I have heard Holocaust survivors talk, and their voices cannot be described as youthful or sweet. They still show evidence of being traumatized even sixty years later. Considering that Tor went through a catastrophe of similar magnitude, it is unlikely in the extreme that she would not show some signs of lasting damage.

It turns out that some sort of conference is being held inside the farmhouse. Why they chose to meet in a farmhouse is beyond me. What’s wrong with an office building? That would be far less suspicious. John gets introduced to everybody present, one after another. All of them are highly successful owners of corporations.

Spoiler alert: None of these people will actually be that important to the plot.

It’s clear that all of these CEOs are working for a common goal, so what on Earth do they want with an unknown professor at a strictly average university?

Now, a note on names. As will be made clear in a few paragraphs or so, the people assembled in the farmhouse come from all over the world. Thus, it is an excellent opportunity for Rummel to show that he really does not understand foreign names. The first person to whom John is introduced is a Chinese woman named Gu Yaping. Both of these are real names, as it turns out, but Rummel has them backwards. He is under the impression that “Gu” is a given name and “Yaping” a surname, when in fact it is the other way round. This error would be very easy to fix, but of course that would require some research, and we all know how little writers like to do research…

Tor reminds John that he is there because she had invited him over for dinner, and while they eat, they discuss current events.

…Or rather they were current events, back when this book was first published in 2004, but most of them are highly dated now. In fact, they were a little dated even then, since the book is set a few years before it was published, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

One of the people in, for lack of a better term at this time, Tor’s groupies, is introduced somewhat awkwardly here. Only two of Tor’s groupies had actually been given names when John first saw them, the rest had been shunted off to the side. This man, we learn now, is named Laurent Nkongoli. In real life, it turns out that there is a person by this name who, at the time these books were written, was the Vice President of the National Assembly in Rwanda. It appears likely that Rummel, since he doesn’t know of any African names, just named his character after this person. The Laurent Nkongoli of the book is not meant to be the same person as the real Laurent Nkongoli, since the fictional version is a doctor based in the United States, but it was in rather poor taste, I think, to do this. Of course, the fictional Laurent Nkongoli (and almost certainly the real one as well) lived through the Rwandan genocide.2

By now, the readers have read two separate stories detailing the horrors of despotism and state-sanctioned killing. Most people reading the novel would get Rummel’s point by now. However, he feels the need to include yet another Very Special Flashback Sequence and further halt the overall plot. Laurent isn’t even an important character, so this doesn’t even serve the purpose of providing needed backstory. It’s just there.

The flashback is of course initiated with a line break.

From the very first sentence of the flashback, verisimilitude is compromised. Supposedly, Laurent has a nephew named Seth Sendashonga. As it turns out, there was a real person in Rwanda named Seth Sendashonga. However, the real Sendashonga was a member of the government during the 1994 genocide. (Though to be fair, he did not think that the Tutsis should actually be killed.) The fictional version of Seth Sendashonga, however, was a college student at the time. Of course, since the real Sendashonga was a Hutu and the real Nkongoli is a Tutsi, there is no way they can be related, but if Rummel had acknowledged this, then he would have had to come up with two entirely original names for his African characters.

The narrator tells us that the fictional Seth, Laurent’s nephew, attended school at the University of Butare. Furthermore:

There was some concern among Tutsi students and faculty at the university about massacres of Tutsi unleashed by the Rwandan Armed Forces in Kigali, the capital. But by Rwandan standards, that was a long distance away. Few worried about it. (pages 59-60)

There are two things wrong with this. Number 1, the distance from Butare to Kigali is about 76 miles. That’s less than two hours by car. Admittedly not many people owned cars in 1990s Rwanda, but even walking it would take only two days or so to travel there, so not exactly a long way. Which brings us to problem Number 2, that if someone heard that people of their ethnic group were being massacred by the Armed Forces less than 100 miles away, I don’t think that they wouldn’t worry about it. Seth should know that the violence could very quickly spread over to where he is. This is the second set of Unfortunate Implications I have pointed out in these flashbacks. What was Rummel thinking?

Apparently Seth was taken by surprise when a militia occupied the university. It’s as if no one thought that the new government which shows no regard for the life of its citizens and in fact regularly kills thousands in plain sight was going to do the same throughout the country? I’m sorry, but we just might have a contender for dumbest character in the book.

The head of the militia is named Stanislas Munyakazi. Now, I can’t actually find any information on a “Stanislas Munyakazi”, so I think Rummel actually came up with this name himself. Now the only question is why he couldn’t do that for his viewpoint characters.

Also, in the same paragraph where Munyakazi is introduced, the name “Tutsi” is misspelled as “Tutu”. Really?

Again, when it comes to the actual details of the genocide, Rummel is pretty accurate. I’d expect him to be, since the study of these atrocities is his specialty. The genocide really was carried out by angry mobs, and even educated people joined in, just like how it is described here.

However, we do get one sentence that makes me cringe for reasons other than the horrifying atrocities committed:

Most had never seen the inside of a library and were unaware of the maze of book stacks. (page 60)

Really? Granted, literacy in a sub-Saharan African country probably isn’t too good, but Rummel did know that a racist stereotype of black people is that they are too dumb to understand education, right? It should also be pointed out that much of the Hutu students at the university were described as joining the militia. They should know what the inside of a library looks like!

We learn that Seth wants to be a doctor just like his uncle. However, this is useless information because Seth will never appear after the Very Special Flashback Sequence is over. From a window, he witnesses some of his fellow students being rounded up in the parking lot and shot. When guns are being fired, I’m pretty sure that it isn’t a good idea to be near a window. Furthermore, the militia men would be able to look into the window and see him, thus figuring out his location! He also has a conversation with some other students who are hiding, even though, you’d think that since they were hiding, that they would want to draw as little attention to themselves as possible? It appears to me that, despite what the narration says, Seth has a death wish.

Just then, Seth realizes that some of the students in the aisle with him aren’t hiding. Oh no, they’re actually Hutu,3 participating in the genocide. He finally gets a sense of how serious the situation is and runs like hell, to the opposite wall, where he runs down the fire escape and hides in the Dumpster. He knows that the militia will easily find him if he stays there, so he jettisons all his belongings except for some food and the knife he had just for this eventuality, and goes into the woods. Wouldn’t he be a bit safer out in the open where he can’t get ambushed?

His body had known. His instincts had carried him this far. Now his laggard mind caught up. As he slowly crept along, he suddenly realized how very near death he was, as close as if he were about to stumble into a pride of hungry lions. He knew that if even one militiaman or soldier with a rifle came into the lane, he was dead. His whole body started shuddering with the hammering of his heart. He had a hard time getting his breath; he almost fell away from the wall. But it was keep moving or die. (page 61)

I don’t know quite what to make of this paragraph. It just seems off to me, but I can’t place my finger on the problem. I am beginning to have the feeling that Rummel wrote this chapter after playing a stealth-based video game. It would explain quite a bit.

Somehow, Seth is able to escape the university campus and run all the way to the hospital where Laurent works without running into any militia men. This is almost as ridiculous as Tor’s escape from the Killing Fields. Apparently the massacre hasn’t reached the hospital yet. How far away from campus is it? The farther away, the less chance that Seth would have avoided the militia, and the closer it is, the less chance that the militia would not have seized it.

Seth is willing to wait for ten whole minutes in the waiting room for Laurent to show up. It should be pointed out that this Very Special Flashback Sequence was supposed to be Laurent’s backstory, yet he has not yet appeared and the flashback has focused entirely on his nephew. Naturally this backfires, since in the time Seth spends waiting, the militia arrive at the hospital. He runs out of there as fast as he can, which strangely does not attract attention to him. Once again, he stupidly looks out a window.

He overhears Munyakazi (the leader of the militia) ordering the Hutu doctors to kill every Tutsi in the hospital. Rummel falls into the same problem here as back in the last Very Special Flashback Sequence: he has the characters use American slang, even though English is not a commonly spoken language in Rwanda. They would either be speaking Kinyarwanda or French, and the former is more likely.

After hearing this, Seth is proactive for once. He runs over to where Laurent is. Strangely enough, only Seth seems to notice that the militia have taken over, even though some other passers-by have also seen them.

When Laurent hears from his nephew what is going on, he attracts attention to himself by strutting around the hospital imploring everybody to leave. Conveniently, the surgery he had performed immediately before the massacre began had been a mastectomy, so he was able to disguise himself and Seth as Hutu by making it appear that he had cut off some poor woman’s breasts with his scalpel. For some reason he doesn’t tell any of the other Tutsi about this strategy, even though they’re in a hospital so it would be trivial for them to acquire surgical knives and to get their clothes soaked in blood. Selfish bastard.

…Of course, since they are in a hospital, one would think that some of the militia men would realize that some people would try something like this, but that never happens. Rummel really seems to be going for the Dumb Muscle idea.

There is yet another egregious spelling error on page 65. In one sentence, Rummel pluralizes “knife” as “knifes”. Even children in elementary school know that the proper plural is “knives”. Geez Louise. Did he not have an editor? …Wait, don’t answer that question.

Laurent and Seth leave the hospital, and don’t even try to rescue any of patients who still don’t know what’s going on. Rummel points out that the militia would kill them if they stopped to help people, but there is no indication that the militia men are in that particular room. Surely there would be some way to get at least some people out of there alive? This is just not trying.

Of course, when they do encounter some militia men, their disguises work flawlessly, with the militia men never once supposing that some surgeon might have just disguised himself using the very method detailed by Laurent. You’d think these bloodthirsty lunatics would shoot (or slash, as the case may be) first, and ask questions later.

After many more gore-filled paragraphs, we get a scene where Laurent kills an ambulance attendant who was working with the militia. This is more or less the only time in any Very Special Flashback Sequence that we actually read about a victim fighting back against the oppressor. However, it should be pointed out that the person Laurent kills is not a member of the militia. It is quite possible that the nameless ambulance attendent was only taking part in the killings because the militia had told all Hutu that they would kill anyone who opposed them, whether Hutu or Tutsi. Rummel easily could have made Laurent’s victim more obviously evil.

To him, it was an execution. Justice had been served. (page 66)


Laurent and Seth meet another militia man. At this point, I should mention that Rummel loves Product Placement. He will always mention the exact manufacturer of any arms featured, but not only that, he specifically described the brand of cigarettes that the militia man was smoking. This is all to set up a scene where Laurent tricks a militia man into letting down his guard, so that he can stab him through the heart.

Well, at least we know for sure the victim was reveling in the genocide this time. It’s a bit surprising that no one else was stationed with him, though.

So far, Laurent has been much more proactive than any other viewpoint character in this book. It’s a shame that as soon as this chapter ends he goes right back to insignificance.

Laurent and Seth board the ambulance which the now-dead militia man was guarding. It’s a good thing the keys were still in the ignition, right? They make their bold escape.

“We’re heading to our border with Zaire. We should make it in about two hours, if the militia doesn’t call ahead.” (page 67)

All right, Rummel majorly screwed up this time. Do you know what was going on in Zaire in 1994? I’ll give you a hint. Zaire is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo.4 Whenever anybody thinks of a country in Africa where things are really, really bad, they think of the Congo. It is probably the worst country in which to live, other than North Korea, especially since in 1994 Zaire was ruled by the utterly insane dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. In the Nineties, the Congo was the site of two of the bloodiest wars ever to be fought. The atrocities committed in that conflict boggle the mind, and totally dwarf any inconvenience that we in the First World have ever experienced. Rummel missed an excellent opportunity to have a Congolese character star in a Very Special Flashback. Shouldn’t Laurent be driving the other way?

Seth brings up a very good point, namely, what will happen to their other family members. Laurent just says that their relatives will be hidden by moderate Hutu who do not support the genocide. Wouldn’t it just be simpler to go their homes now, pick them up, and then skedaddle? They have a motor vehicle right now.

When they arrive at the border, Rummel flubs geography a little. He has Laurent and Seth park their ambulance outside the “Rwandan town of Bukavu”, before approaching the forested border with Zaire. In actual fact, Bukavu is on the Congolese side of the border, and on the Rwandan side is a town called Cyangugu. If they were just outside Bukavu, then they would already be in Zaire, not that Zaire would be any better than Rwanda, of course.

They cross into Zaire, and unlike the case of Nguon and Tor, the two of them do not have any difficulties in the forest; both Laurent and his nephew survive. Of course, we knew beforehand that Laurent would survive, since this is a flashback and he appears in the main story, but Seth is never mentioned again. In some way, that eliminates the tension of all of these flashback sequences, since the readers know that the viewpoint character must survive.

The Very Special Flashback Sequence and the chapter end with the revelation that 170 Tutsi were eventually murdered in the hospital. I said earlier that Laurent should have at least tried to save some of them.

Between this and the last flashback, I think that Rummel greatly overestimated a person’s chances of surviving a massacre like that. At least this flashback is slightly better written than the previous, however. It’s not enough to really be good, though.

Yes, I have been doing research for this spork.


1 Er, well, keeping in mind that this is a book and so we cannot actually “see” anyone…

2 This isn’t quite as contrived as one might think, but the explanation has not been revealed just yet.

3 How he is able to actually tell that they’re Hutu just by looking at them, when the Hutu and Tutsi don’t really look any different from each other, is not explained.

4 It is, of course, neither democratic nor a republic.

Tagged as:


  1. Mark on 16 November 2012, 20:33 said:

    Yes, I have been doing research for this spork.

    We can tell.

    You know, I’m hoping that was Rummel’s plan all along: write a really shitty book about real-life atrocities with so many stupid mistakes that even the most casual reader doubts his facts, which causes readers to do the research and learn about these atrocities for themselves. Because if Rummel is really the respected historian he claims to be, he should know better than to send his two Tutsi characters running into Zaire.

  2. LoneWolf on 17 November 2012, 05:07 said:

    Both of these are real names, as it turns out, but Rummel has them backwards. He is under the impression that “Gu” is a given name and “Yaping” a surname, when in fact it is the other way round.

    It appears likely that Rummel, since he doesn’t know of any African names, just named his character after this person.

    Hah. It’s exactly the kind of stuff that reveals sloppy writing and research.

    massacres of Tutsi unleashed by the Rwandan Armed Forces in Kigali, the capital. But by Rwandan standards, that was a long distance away. Few worried about it.

    That’s also hilarious.

  3. Licht on 17 November 2012, 07:15 said:

    He is under the impression that “Gu” is a given name and “Yaping” a surname.

    Is he really?
    Maybe he just spelled it the way it ought to be in Chinese? You put the family-name first, if I remember correctly.

  4. LoneWolf on 17 November 2012, 09:05 said:

    Yes, in Chinese the surnames are first. If the accusation against Rummel is based on that, then it has to be retracted.

  5. Brendan Rizzo on 17 November 2012, 11:26 said:

    Actually, that’s not the case. In the text, when Gu introduces herself, she says that they all call each other by their first names, and insists that John call her Gu. Also, in her own flashback sequence (yes, there are more) Gu is clearly her given name. Rummel seems to have come across Chinese names written in native order, and didn’t know that the family name comes first.

  6. LoneWolf on 17 November 2012, 12:14 said:

    Actually, that’s not the case. In the text, when Gu introduces herself, she says that they all call each other by their first names, and insists that John call her Gu.

    Then Rummel’s slip is extremely sloppy.

  7. swenson on 17 November 2012, 14:50 said:

    Then Rummel’s slip is extremely sloppy.

    Especially for a historian! Aren’t those people supposed to pay attention to things like subtle differences in culture? Just seems like the sort of thing he would’ve picked up.

  8. Apep on 17 November 2012, 17:53 said:

    Except he’s not a historian – he’s a Political Science prof. I know the two tend to get grouped together under the “Social Studies” umbrella, but they’re not the same. It’s like how Literature and Composition are both “Language Arts” areas.[/history major rant]

    Rummel probably does have a history background, and being a historian doesn’t necessarily require a history degree, but if we’re going to bash him for research fail, let’s get the details right (unlike Rummel).

    Of course, none of this justifies his clear lack of research. I just don’t like being associated with a guy who writes crap like this, even if only vaguely.

    His self-insert is allegedly a historian, but I think his knowledge of history is debatable. We’ll see if this turns out to be true (based on the book’s blurb, it probably is).

  9. LoneWolf on 17 November 2012, 18:11 said:

    Well, the issue of mass murders in XX century is a historical one, and Rummel wrote about it quite extensively. It seems that his main problem is political bias.

  10. Apep on 17 November 2012, 23:42 said:

    Okay, so maybe he’s technically a historian, but if he is, he’s a bad one. The good ones try to avoid showing their biases.

    Then again, this series looks like it’s really just an author filibuster that would put Ayn Rand to shame.

  11. Pryotra on 18 November 2012, 18:12 said:

    Am I the only one who found the “Tutu” thing to be the best part of the book as of yet?

  12. swenson on 19 November 2012, 09:10 said:

    I did find it pretty funny. Presumably a typo, but a rather amusing one. And, dare I say, not all that surprising, considering his apparent lack of understanding of this conflict in the first place?

    (caveat: my only real exposure to the Rwandan Genocide was Hotel Rwanda, but come on. I at least can apply some critical thinking skills to the situation and see that as written in the story, it’s… kind of not that well-written.

    Don’t get me wrong, Rummel might know his stuff on a political level. But he’s awful at writing it on a personal level. Knowing about something and writing convincingly about it are two different things.)

  13. A Real Libertarian on 17 July 2013, 03:01 said:

    swenson I will tell you right now Rummels’ knowledge of politics is much worse then his knowledge of writing.

    For example:
    “With so many serious dangers to our democracy – Obama’s far left socialists, a possible leftist coup, an EMP attack, global islamofascism, it seems a stretch to include our tax system also as a danger. It is. Consider that 47% of “taxpayers,” 71,000,000 people will pay no income tax in 2009. Zero.”
    That is the first paragraph of the latest post on the his blog1 he also claims that America was winning in Iraq until Obama got elected president and sabotaged it. That post by the way? Put up on October 16, 2009 if that’s the best defense of freedom it’s kind of shocking that the USSR didn’t become the USSW in six months tops.

    There’s a lot more where that came from. Check it out if you want
    Just remember this warning “Gaze upon his works ye sane and despair”.

    [1]Or at least the blog at the top of a google search for r j rummel blog, he’s got about half a dozen of them, moving on whenever the comments start getting repetitive in asking him to please take his meds.

  14. swenson on 17 July 2013, 08:07 said:

    Yeah… I’m coming to realize, as the book goes on, that he is pretty thoroughly a nut. Not that I didn’t suspect it before, it just becomes increasingly clear over time.