One Hundred Days
Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2008
Paperback edition: btb Verlag, 2010
Rwanda 1990. The Swiss development aid worker, David Hohl, arrives filled with ideals in a respectable country, in the "Switzerland of Africa". But right from the start, his idealism meets with sobering experiences. His work is bureaucratic; questionable development projects by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in support of a dictatorship. In the capital Kigali, a boring dump, chaos erupts when the Pope addresses a packed stadium. Hohl is almost crushed by the crowd. In the hospital, he finds Agatha whom he had met at the airport in Brussels. They become involved in a passionate relationship. Then the Tutsi rebels march in and the genocide is imminent. Agatha, a Hutu, becomes ideologically active. Hohl is troubled to discover that this intensifies his sexual lust.
When the massacre starts in 1994, the development aid workers leave the country. Hohl spontaneously decides to remain behind and hides away in his house. His gardener stashes looted goods in the house but takes care of Hohl, until the latter realizes that he is one of the murderers and drives him away. Hohl is half dehydrated when Hutu militia arrive at his house and give him water and food. When the rebels are on the point of entering Kigali, the gardener is killed by the militia. Hohl does not prevent this even though he would have been able to. He escapes to the Congo with the Hutus. In the refugee camp, the mayors who had ordered the massacre are organising camp life. Hohl also provides aid relief to the murderers. When he hears that Agatha, now leader of a murder gang, is in Goma, he obtains money through corruption in order to reach her. In Goma, Agatha dies of cholera before his eyes.
Bärfuss, Lukas: Hundert Tage (One Hundred Days)
Bärfuss did his research well. The biggest part of the novel concentrates on the past history of the "one hundred days". Background information is constantly integrated with the narrative. The horror itself is only experienced indirectly from the perspective of Hohl, hiding in his house.
For Western development aid workers, Rwanda was the ideal country with a good climate, functioning government structures and disciplined citizens, eager to learn. Projects abounded. There were reforestation projects where the forests had been irretrievably damaged. A Swiss engineer dies in his attempt to save a tree. In Kigali, the development aid workers and diplomats play a paper chase, organised by the cynical hedonist Missland. Secretly, they would all have liked to be closer to "darkest Africa": We "often wished that we could feel closer to the mythical mother continent, the primeval beginnings that had to pulsate somewhere near us. We would have liked to sweat more often, would have liked to see the whites of people's eyes more frequently, would have liked a touch of madness with our breakfast".
In the order and modesty of the Rwandans, the ignorant Swiss recognize themselves and have no idea what is brewing beneath it all. It is precisely the sense of order that makes the genocide possible. Genocide can only occur in an organized state in which everyone knows his place. Analysts agree that the Rwandan genocide was a perfectly orchestrated act, based on a functioning hierarchy of power and not an atavistic outbreak of spontaneous violence. In the novel, however, this is claimed rather than portrayed.
Development aid is dependent on stability and therefore always serves those who are in power. Thus, unbeknownst to them, the aid from Switzerland was right from the start in alliance with those who would later become murderers. There was no awareness of the consequences of actions and no one gave any thought to who was being served through these actions, since they were considered non-political. Telephone connections were established, through which the orders to massacre would later be transmitted; excellent training in radio journalism was offered so that the hate campaign was furthered in well-made programmes. And a Swiss citizen, on the Swiss payroll until 1993, was the dictator’s councillor.
Those who could foresee the killing, fled in time when it arrived. David Hohl does not want to be a coward but, hidden in his house, he becomes dependent on his gardener and later on the young Vincent. Both of them belong to the killers. "I later heard how dutifully zealous they were, how thoroughly they did their work, like an ordinary task, and, just as they used to stop their day's work at the drainage ditches at five on the dot, they were also exemplary in their killing work." The wounded buzzard that Hohl takes care of, eats his way to health on human flesh. When Hohl realizes this, he is horrified and kills the animal. But he cannot avoid, sliding into ever increasing complicity with the killers.
Only the love story with the African woman Agatha, leaves one perplexed. Hohl experiences Agatha's sexuality as strange, as animal-like and he is excited by her outbursts of hatred. Could this point to an abyss in the African soul? Is Hohl seeing the darkness of the archaic Africa that the Western foreigners yearned for? One can only hope that this is not the intention.