Rick Bass took his wife and teenage daughter to Rwanda in 2011; they went with their friend Terry Tempest Williams. Bass and Williams taught a two-day writing seminar at Rwanda’s last remaining national university, in Butare. Following that, the group traveled north to Virunga National Park, home to the world’s dwindling population of mountain gorillas. This slim volume recounts their trip chronologically and simply, yet its small size belies its impact; it is likely to stick with you long after the last page is read.
Among the first things Bass notices is Rwanda’s abundant natural beauty — its soft light, its rich landscape — but he quickly points out that his goal is not to write a travelogue, “an irresponsible saunter through great beauty.” For of course Rwanda is also the site of enduring tragedy: not just the 1994 genocide in which as many as a million people were murdered, but also the series of ethnic massacres that took place in the preceding decades, and before that, colonization by the Belgians, whose preference for one ethnic group over another helped spark all that violence. Bass is alert to the role played by white outsiders here, and conscious of his own whiteness, his membership in a nation of the fortunate, the forgetful.