Left to Tell

by

Immaculée Ilibagiza

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Left to Tell can help.

Left to Tell: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Immaculée is astonished by the feeling of being outside in the fresh air. Most of Pastor Murinzi’s sons, along with John, surround the women, carrying weapons to protect them. Suddenly, a group of 60 heavily-armed Interahamwe emerge from the darkness. However, miraculously they pass by the group without incident. Soon after, the pastor indicates that the French camp is 500 yards away and that the women must go the rest of the way themselves. Immaculée quickly shakes his hand and runs to the camp as fast as she can.
Having spent months in the bathroom hiding from the killers, Immaculée now confronts them face-to-face. The fact that they do not notice the group of Tutsi women is miraculous, and recalls other moments in which Immaculée felt that God “blinded” the eyes of the killers, allowing her to escape right in front of them.
Themes
God, Faith, and Miracles Theme Icon
Love vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Immaculée and the other women shout for help, and a soldier approaches them suspiciously. Immaculée can tell that he is trying to judge from their physical appearance whether they are Tutsi or Hutu. Immaculée is the only one with an identity card, which she presents to the soldier. Suddenly, the soldiers’ attitude changes and they promise that everything will be ok, and that the women will not be hurt. Inside the camp, Immaculée walks off alone and lies down on the ground, staring up at the night’s sky. She thinks about her family and remembers her childhood swims in Lake Kivu. She is filled with sadness, but tells God that she trusts Him to make a new path for her.
Having spent so long inside the bathroom, Immaculée finds joy in every aspect of the natural world—even something as simple as lying on the dirt floor, staring up at the sky. Yet her sadness when thinking about her memories of Lake Kivu are a reminder that even the natural landscape has been forever tarnished by the genocide.
Themes
God, Faith, and Miracles Theme Icon
Love vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
A man approaches Immaculée, and she soon recognizes him as her friend Jean Paul. He is accompanied by his brother, Jean Baptiste, who has several enormous, fresh wounds on his neck and head. Jean Paul tells Immaculée the good news that Kigali has fallen, but adds that the killing in Kibuye has gotten even worse as a result. Immaculée had always thought Jean Paul and his brother were Hutu, and now Jean Paul explains that their short stature and dark skin helped them survive. He says that he was visiting a Hutu friend, Laurent, when Jean Baptiste and many others were attacked by killers. Laurent hid the brothers, but spent his days murdering Tutsis along with the rest of the killers.
Jean Paul’s story about Laurent highlights the complexity of the genocide and the actions it inspired. Rather than being a straightforward division between good and evil, the genocide created conditions under which both enormous good and evil were committed—sometimes by the same person. This proves Immaculée’s point that no one is born evil but no one is perfect either. It is therefore important to accept the inevitability of sin while forgiving people for the evil acts they commit.
Themes
Love vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Forgiveness and Redemption Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Immaculée realizes that Jean Paul must know what happened to her family, and she braces herself for the truth. She knows that he will not want to be the one to break the news that her family is dead, so she pretends to know her father died, but asks him where. Jean Paul tells her that Leonard was killed in Kibuye town, likely on April 14th. He’d gone to the government office to ask them to send food to the thousands of refugees in the stadium. Leonard had been close with the prefect of Kibuye, but on this day the prefect ordered soldiers to drag Leonard outside the building and shoot him on the street.
In the end, Leonard’s trust and hope in other people did end up getting him killed. This is deeply tragic, but after Immaculée’s reflections on trust, faith, and hope, perhaps it was better that Leonard died believing in these things rather than surviving with a hardened, cynical heart. At the same time, Immaculée has also explored the importance of standing up for oneself; self-sacrifice should not be the only way. 
Themes
Love vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Get the entire Left to Tell LitChart as a printable PDF.
Left to Tell PDF
Jean Paul then tells Immaculée that Rose was killed a few days before Leonard. He suspects that Laurent was one of those who killed her. Rose had been defending a young man she thought was Damascene; the killers told her if she gave them money they wouldn’t kill her. Rose tried to run to borrow money from her friend Murenge, but Murenge turned her away, saying: “We don’t help cockroaches here!” Rose was hacked to death by machete, and she was one of the few victims of the genocide who was buried after being murdered.
It is utterly heartbreaking that after a lifetime of serving and supporting others, Rose would be turned away by her former friend in her hour of need. Indeed, even in her final moments Rose was not just looking out for herself but also trying to defend a man she thought was her son. Like Leonard, her kindness and moral righteousness ultimately led to her death.
Themes
Love vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Forgiveness and Redemption Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Jean Paul then explains that Augustine and Vianney were killed in a massacre at the stadium. He adds that Damascene tried to escape to Zaire, and beforehand left all of his papers with his friend Bonn. Jean Paul admits that he heard Bonn “went mad” after Damascene was killed. On hearing this, Immaculée stumbles away, collapses on the ground, and weeps. Jean Paul attempts to comfort her, but she tells him she needs to be alone. Immaculée prays, envisioning the faces of her family and asking God to watch over them.
Although Immaculée suspected that her entire family was killed, hearing it confirmed is too much to bear. This is particularly true when she hears of Damascene’s death, due to their special connection. From Jean Paul’s description, it also seems as if Damascene may have been closest to escaping the genocide. His intelligence, courage, and close friendships got him close to survival, but in the end they weren’t enough.
Themes
God, Faith, and Miracles Theme Icon
Love vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
A couple of hours before dawn, the French soldiers tell Immaculée and the others to climb into the back of a truck. When they reach a Hutu roadblock, the soldiers pretend that they are bringing supplies to Hutu refugees from Kigali, and they are allowed to pass. Many of the refugees are headed to Kibuye, some hoping to escape to Zaire. Immaculée is relieved when the truck reaches the French base camp, but she feels defeated that they are still in Rwanda, as in that moment she would rather be anywhere else.
Escaping the bathroom into the protection of the French soldiers should be a moment of relief, joy, and triumph. However, the tragedy of the genocide is too enormous and pervasive for Immaculée to really feel happy. Furthermore, she now has to confront how alone she truly is and always will be after the deaths of her family members.
Themes
Love vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Immaculée realizes that they are at the schoolhouse where Rose used to teach, and is briefly comforted by fond memories of her mother. There are about 20 other Tutsis at the camp who had survived by living in the forest for the past three months. Suddenly, Immaculée sees Rose’s sister Esperance and runs to embrace her. Esperance brings Immaculée to see her other aunt, Jeanne. Ordinarily Jeanne is an elegant, extremely neat woman, but now she is wearing clothes so worn that they do not cover her. Jeanne apologizes for her appearance, and she and Immaculée embrace.
Once again, in the middle of one of Immaculée’s darkest hours a ray of hope and comfort emerges. Immaculée’s immediate family members are dead, but her reunion with Jeanne and Esperance shows that at least not all the members of her extended family have been killed. Perhaps there is a chance to rebuild a life post-genocide after all.
Themes
Love vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Education, Discipline, and Growth Theme Icon
The women exchange tragic news about who has been killed in the genocide. Both Jeanne and Esperance lost almost all of their immediate family. Immaculée’s grandparents were killed, along with at least seven uncles. The women cry together. Esperance tells Immaculée that Damascene found her in the forest while he was trying to escape to Zaire, and that he gave her a letter to give to Immaculée. The letter is stained with teardrops, and Immaculée walks away to read it alone.
Even the terrible tragedy of Damascene’s death contains a small miraculous moment—the fact that he found Esperance in the forest and was able to give her a letter for Immaculée, despite not knowing whether Immaculée was still alive or if she or Esperance would get to see each other again.
Themes
God, Faith, and Miracles Theme Icon
Love vs. Prejudice Theme Icon