An Ordinary Man An Autobiography Summary and Study Guide

Paul Rusesabagina

An Ordinary Man An Autobiography

  • 36-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 11 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an English professor with over 15 years of experience
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An Ordinary Man An Autobiography Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 36-page guide for “An Ordinary Man An Autobiography” by Paul Rusesabagina includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 11 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Lasting Impact of Colonialism and Tribal Conflict.

Plot Summary

An Ordinary Man (2006) is the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina, which he writes with the aid of New York-based journalist Tom Zoellner. His story centers on the genocide that occurs in Rwanda in 1994. The book details the struggles Paul and his family overcome to survive the inhumane killing of thousands of people in Rwanda on the basis of racial conflict. This book is also the basis for the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda. The narrative is told in direct, unembellished language and an unostentatious style. It tells the story of Paul’s past and his thoughts about the genocide, and what he does to save the people who are targeted during the conflict.

The book describes in detail the events that precede the Rwandan genocide of 1994. First, a local radio begins an anti-Tutsi propaganda machine that is subsequently picked up by the newspapers. Next, the Hutu president of Rwanda is murdered. The Hutus mount a dehumanizing and degrading campaign against the Tutsis in which the Tutsis are referred to as “cockroaches,” much in the way the Nazis used the words “lice” and “vermin” to describe Jews. The hate propaganda leads to Tutsis being thrown out of schools, jobs and their homes, and, broadly, becoming dehumanizingly isolated. Finally, the torture and killings escalate to a rampage where Hutu killers go from house to house with machetes and guns, gruesomely dismembering, decapitating, stabbing, and shooting the Tutsis. Ten weeks later, more than 800,000 Rwandans are dead, their bodies piled up by the roadside or dumped into mass graves. Those who survive the horrific genocide are transported to camps located in neighboring African countries, where they wait for help from the United Nations or America, neither of which are forthcoming with assistance.

The autobiography describes how, when the genocide begins, Rusesabagina uses diplomacy, bribery and deception to shelter almost 1,200 Tutsi and Hutu moderates in his hotel, while mobs race through the city to murder and rampage. He describes in sobering detail the spectacle of seeing close friends and next-door neighbors being hacked to death. His narrative underscores the frustration and helplessness he feels while his pleas for aid are ignored or unheeded by Western nations and the U.N.O. Rusesabagina survives 100 days in this captivity before order is restored in the city. However, Rusesabagina and his family can no longer emotionally connect to their homeland after the genocide and relocate to Belgium.

Rusesabagina exemplifies the banality of good and the resilience of a common, ordinary man who goes about his daily rituals and refuses to fall victim to the mayhem and disorder of the inhumanity prevailing around him. The manager of a Belgian-owned Rwandan hotel, Rusesabagina is able to save some 1,268 people— family members, friends, and employees—during the ten weeks of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Rusesabagina, the son of a Hutu father and Tutsi mother, grows up on a small farm. The book describes how he overcomes numerous obstacles to become the first Rwandan general manager of the luxurious Hotel Mille Collines. He turns the hotel into one of Africa’s most profitable institutions.

By following the simple rules of hotel hospitality that he has learned, Paul manages to keep alive thousands of people who seek shelter in the Mille Collines. By keeping the lines of communication open with the people who belong to the opposition, resorting to bribes whenever necessary, and by stalling, delaying, cajoling, flattering, and even supplying the machete-wielding thugs with precious food and drink, Paul Rusesabagina saves lives by relying on what he’s learned as a hotel manager, with his power of communication able to keep people comfortable. He notes how, in a hotel built for only 300 people, Hutu and Tutsi strangers, many of whom have just witnessed their families being killed, would sleep next one another for the sheer sake of human touch.

Rusesabagina’s book is written in a conversational tone. In order to explain the complicated relationship between the Hutus and the Tutsis, the author traces the history of Rwanda, from the country’s German and Belgian colonization to how the tension between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes has been manufactured by white European settlers and colonizers who govern the region through a policy of ‘rule and divide.’ The colonizers fear that if the Hutus and Tutsis unite, they can rise up against their white oppressors. By setting one tribe against the other, the colonizers can maintain their power and authority over the people of Rwanda.

Rusesabagina has never considered himself a hero or an activist, even though his actions saved the lives of more than a thousand people during the sixth-deadliest genocide in the history of mankind. It’s clear that Rusesabagina will never forget the atrocities he witnesses, nor completely forgive the West for its inaction. However, rather than engaging in bitterness, he uses the book’s final section to fervently insist that the world should never again ignore genocide in any nation or…

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