During Immaculée’s third year at university, the radio waves are flooded with hateful propaganda about Tutsi “cockroaches.” The announcers claim that the Tutsis are planning to kill Hutus and they chant “Hutu Power!” Immaculée finds it hard to understand how anyone takes such claims seriously, but they nonetheless disturb her. She decides to stay at university over the Easter break to study for her upcoming exams, but then receives a letter from Leonard urging her to come home immediately. Immaculée decides to go, and she is joined by Sarah’s younger brother Augustine, who is close friends with Vianney.
Leonard’s insistence that Immaculée come home for Easter break is the first indication that everything is really not normal. Leonard normally makes an effort to at least pretend that things are fine—now, however, he cannot help but reveal his own fear to his daughter. While the government’s anti-Tutsi propaganda may be absurd, the impact it is having on the country is all too serious.
Immaculée’s entire family is in Mataba except Aimable, who is in Senegal after having won a scholarship to pursue postgraduate research there. Damascene has come home from Kigali, where he works as a high school history teacher, and Vianney is on vacation from boarding school. On Easter Sunday, the family have a big feast, enjoying the day despite the haunting threat of unrest, violence, and war. It is a perfectly “typical” evening, apart from the fact that Damascene is nervous and sullen. He tells Immaculée that he saw killers with grenades and a list of Tutsi families in the area. He says that it’s a “death list” and that they are planning to kill everyone on it.
Again, Immaculée looks up to Damascene as a cheerleader and guide. She trusts his judgment and is used to his reliably cheerful manner. As a result, his downcast, panicked behavior in this passage is all the more frightening. At the same time, Immaculée is now caught between trusting Damascene and trusting the rest of her family. While Damascene is aware of what appears to be the beginnings of genocide, everyone else continues to act as if everything is normal.
Leonard tries to calm Damascene down, but Damascene insists that they have to flee immediately and seek refuge in Zaire. Leonard insists that Damascene is letting his imagination get carried away, but Immaculée knows it isn’t like her brother to blow things out of proportion. She suggests that Damascene might be right and they really should leave. Leonard remains firm that they are not going anywhere and declares that it is time to eat. Damascene tries to stay positive, but Immaculée can tell it’s not genuine. She wishes she had known that this would be her family’s last supper together.
At occasional moments throughout the novel, Immaculée’s retrospective voice emerges to comment on what she did not know at the time. Often, this retrospective commentary reveals tragic realities that were hidden to her while they were actually happening. Before the genocide takes place, Immaculée remains cautiously optimistic and innocent—it is impossible for her to understand what is to come.
After saying goodnight to their parents, Immaculée, her brothers, and Augustine gather to discuss the rumors they’ve heard. Augustine is hesitant to disrespect Leonard, but admits that he thinks the death list is real and that they should leave that night, without Leonard and Rose. Although in some ways this plan is tempting, Damascene and Immaculée decide to wait until morning to make a decision. Immaculée goes to her room, which she compares to a “little chapel.” She thinks about her relationship with Damascene. He was always seen as the “superstar” of the village, and when Immaculée was young, she would pray to become more like him.
Throughout much of her life thus far, Immaculée has been focused on emulating the example of those older and wiser than her in order to become more mature and wise herself. However, this scene suggests that age does not correlate to wisdom in all situations. Leonard and Rose may have lived through massacres before, but this has arguably made them overconfident about their chances of survival. In this moment, their children are more prudent than they are.
Just as Immaculée begins to pray, Damascene enters the room and tells her that President Habyarimana is dead. His plane was shot out of the sky the previous night. Immaculée is terrified; she is sure that this means they will certainly die. Damascene tries to reassure her that everything will be fine and that things might even get better now that Habyarimana is dead. However, they soon hear on the radio that 20 Tutsi families have already been killed in Kigali in the night. It sounds as if the announcer is a “cheerleader” for the killings. When the names of people killed are read aloud, Immaculée’s Uncle Twaza is among them.
As the book demonstrates, situations can go from bad to horrific within hours over particular triggers, such as the signing of a treaty or the death of a politician. Because these individual moments are sudden and unpredictable, they escalate danger in ways that cannot be known (or prepared for) in advance. Although no one knows what will happen in the wake of Habyarimana’s murder, the only certainty is that the event will bring further chaos to Rwanda.
Rose cries out in horror, and the family sits in tense silence. Augustine says he would like to go home to Kigali, but immediately afterward the radio announcer says that public transport has been suspended and that everyone should stay inside. Damascene remarks that this makes them “sitting ducks.” Although the family don’t realize it yet, the genocide has already begun.
One of the most tragic themes in Left to Tell and other works of literature about genocide is the difficulty of deciding whether to stay or leave. Although leaving can be safer, abandoning one’s home is no easy decision, and thus it is one often made too late.