Title: Waiting for First Light
Author: Roméo Dallaire
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥
This is the fourth book that I have read from the CBC Canada Reads 2017 Longlist, and probably the first one that I can see actually making it into the shortlist. Roméo Dallaire is a retired Canadian Army general, and a former senator. He was in command of a Canadian peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the genocide in the 90s. This book is about the effect that the horrible, horrible things that happened in Rwanda have had on the rest of his life ever since he came home.
I chose this book because I had no idea what happened in the Rwandan genocide, and I really wanted to have a look at that terrible part of history. Admittedly, I didn’t come away from this book with much of an idea about it, since it was mostly about his life after his return to Canada. He has written a couple of other books about the issue, Shake Hands with the Devil and They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children. I liked this book, and I’m going to add those other titles to my reading list.
Even though this book was not really what I was expecting, I liked reading it. It seems that the journey that Dallaire has been on ever since he returned to Canada 20 years ago is not all that uncommon for Canadian troops. Before I read this book, I had the misleading notion that “peacekeeping” missions were peaceful, maybe with some combat, but mostly about handing out aid and making sure that the civilians were safe. OK, I had an uneasy feeling that this was probably not completely true, but I didn’t really know what it was about.
Dallaire’s book is written from the unusual vantage point of a general. Because he was in charge rather than just there to follow orders, I think this gives the book an important and interesting viewpoint. He talks about his feelings of powerlessness and guilt over what had been done, or not done. And when he came back, so many people had the attitude of “Well, you’re back now. Better get on with it.” Or, even worse, people couldn’t understand why he hadn’t done more to stop the genocide. But, meanwhile, he had sustained a horrible moral and psychological injury that only a very few could see.
It seems that Dallaire’s injuries are probably never going to go away completely, just as an amputated leg or other physical injury never goes away completely.
I think the military, and society as a whole, is much more aware now of these kinds of psychological injuries that veterans come back with. Nevertheless, I think this is a brutally honest and vulnerable account of one man’s experience, and I would not be surprised at all if this makes it onto the Canada Reads 2017 Shortlist as the book that Canadians need to read now.