One Book presents what’s ‘Left to Tell’

Lauren Piro

The University-wide One Book Villanova program celebrated its culminating event on Tuesday, a large lecture in the Pavilion featuring this year’s author, Immaculèe Ilibagiza, and her book “Left to Tell: Finding God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.”

Before this evening, however, was a year’s worth of planning and preparation.

This is One Book Villanova’s third year as a prominent program at the University.

The program is headed by tri-chairs Joseph Lucia, director of Falvey Memorial Library; Tom Mogan, director of Student Development; and Dr. Terry Nance, assistant vice president for Multicultural Affairs.

In choosing this year’s book, the chairs and the One Book committee, which includes representatives from all the colleges, administrative offices and the student body, wanted to remain true to the program’s mission and values while keeping in mind other criteria.

“We’re always looking for current books that can be discussed in a variety of different settings,” Lucia said. “We’re looking for books that have some aspect of a global and multicultural perspective.”

“Left to Tell” follows Ilibagiza’s journey and experience during the devastating Rwandan genocide of 1994.

It is a book that highlights the important issue of Africa’s geo-political climate with a connection to religious faith, while offering a chilling and compelling narrative that can connect to young peoples’ lives, said Lucia.

“Our student representatives were especially enthusiastic about the book,” Nance said. “Our first two books had come from the male perspective, and we were definitely looking for something that spoke to the female [perspective].”

Overall, however, “Left to Tell” was ultimately chosen for its ability to engage the community with strong cultural literacy – the main idea of importance to the program and its chairs.

“I’m very excited about how books can bring us to a shared experience that will increase the real meaning of community for us,” Nance said.

Each year, the book chosen for the program is purchased in enough quantities so that every undergraduate will receive a free copy.

Funds are from a donation from former chair of the Parent Committee of the Board of Trustees, Patricia Imbesi.

Academic and administrative departments throughout the University also have the option of buying the books for their staff and faculty, and many did so this year.

The committee is pleased with the amount of recognition the book has gotten on campus.

Nance recounts several anecdotes in which she saw students engaged in the book on campus, including one story about a student who was amazed at how much he could like a book that was assigned to him in class.

Tuesday’s events began with a smaller book signing in the afternoon to offer the opportunity for more time with Ilibagiza than just at the book signing after the large evening event.

Dining Services is also part of the One Book event.

Tuesday’s dinner in all three resident dining halls was themed “The Taste or Rwanda” and included dishes like bananas with green split peas, plantain cake and Tilapia Kigali Ngari.

The committee and Ilibagiza herself dined in Dougherty Hall, continuing the notion of centering event on the Villanova community.

The large lecture was the prominent event of the day and the program, noted by Lucia as “the dramatic high point of an author visit that really builds up excitement around [the program].”

The evening begin with a performance from the Villanova Spiritual Dance Group as well as the Le Belles de Afrique dance troupe from Washington D.C.

Le Belles de Afrique performed a traditional Rwandan dance and brought the audience to the floor to dance with them.

Ilibagiza was introduced by Dr. Rachel Baard, a Villanova professor who has become awed with Ilibagiza’s story as her students have read the book in class. Ilibagiza professed an equal appreciation to the Villanova community.

“I’m so grateful that this school has adopted my book, my story,” she said. “It is a dream come true. It is something I never thought would ever happen … to see every one of you being here and reading it and asking questions and getting all the details of my family, of everything that we went through. I am very grateful.”

Ilibagiza went on to speak passionately about her story within the genocide.

After the violence broke out, members of the Tutsi tribe became hunted and killed by those of the Hutu tribe.

During the holocaust, Ilibagiza was forced to spend 91 days in a 3-foot-by-4-foot bathroom with seven other women, suffering in complete silence and living in constant fear.

She was a university student and only 19 years old – much the same as the Villanova students who have read her book.

“I was a student just like you,” she said. “I look at you and my heart goes out to you … and just to remember the innocence … your innocence won’t protect you.”

Throughout her days in hiding, which many who read her book note as analogous to those of Anne Frank, Ilibagiza struggled with finding God and remaining strong while trying to forgive the Hutus.

Eventually, it was her strength in finding this faith that kept her alive, she said.

“When I realized [the Hutu’s] ignorance, when I realized their blindness … it was really the moment when my heart opened and I felt I was able to forgive,” Ilibagiza said of strengthening her faith and forgiveness.

Ilibagiza’s faith carried her out of Rwanda and eventually to Manhattan, where she began working for the United Nations and then published her book.

She related all of these successes to her faith in God and astounded the audience with her immense positivity and joy for life.

“We have so many, many things to be happy about,” she said.

The lecture concluded with a short question-and-answer period, where several audiences members asked Ilibagiza about her feelings on her survival as well as conflicts that are occurring in Africa right now.

Her answers were never-failing in their emphasis on faith.

“No matter who you are, no matter what problems you’ve went through … anything is possible to come back and be joyful,” she said. “There is nothing that is going to kill you unless you say yes to it. And even dying … die so you can still die in dignity.”

At the end of the year, the final initiative of One Book Villanova includes donating the book to schools or other organizations in the area, holding up the programs slogan of “Read it. Share it.”

The committee has also begun the process of choosing next year’s book, with the tri-chairs hoping to maintain the criteria and precedent they’ve set with this year’s well-received book.

“It’s one of those things that are truly unique to Villanova,” Nance said.