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Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel

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In 2006, Alice Walker, working with Women for Women International, visited Rwanda and the eastern Congo to witness the aftermath of the genocide in Kigali. Invited by Code Pink, an antiwar group working to end the Iraq War, Walker traveled to Palestine/Israel three years later to view the devastation on the Gaza Strip. Here is her testimony. Bearing witness to the depravity In 2006, Alice Walker, working with Women for Women International, visited Rwanda and the eastern Congo to witness the aftermath of the genocide in Kigali. Invited by Code Pink, an antiwar group working to end the Iraq War, Walker traveled to Palestine/Israel three years later to view the devastation on the Gaza Strip. Here is her testimony. Bearing witness to the depravity and cruelty, she presents the stories of the individuals who crossed her path and shared their tales of suffering and courage. Part of what has happened to human beings over the last century, she believes, is that we have been rendered speechless by unusually barbaric behavior that devalues human life. We have no words to describe what we witness. Self-imposed silence has slowed our response to the plight of those who most need us, often women and children, but also men of conscience who resist evil but are outnumbered by those around them who have fallen victim to a belief in weapons, male or ethnic dominance, and greed.


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In 2006, Alice Walker, working with Women for Women International, visited Rwanda and the eastern Congo to witness the aftermath of the genocide in Kigali. Invited by Code Pink, an antiwar group working to end the Iraq War, Walker traveled to Palestine/Israel three years later to view the devastation on the Gaza Strip. Here is her testimony. Bearing witness to the depravity In 2006, Alice Walker, working with Women for Women International, visited Rwanda and the eastern Congo to witness the aftermath of the genocide in Kigali. Invited by Code Pink, an antiwar group working to end the Iraq War, Walker traveled to Palestine/Israel three years later to view the devastation on the Gaza Strip. Here is her testimony. Bearing witness to the depravity and cruelty, she presents the stories of the individuals who crossed her path and shared their tales of suffering and courage. Part of what has happened to human beings over the last century, she believes, is that we have been rendered speechless by unusually barbaric behavior that devalues human life. We have no words to describe what we witness. Self-imposed silence has slowed our response to the plight of those who most need us, often women and children, but also men of conscience who resist evil but are outnumbered by those around them who have fallen victim to a belief in weapons, male or ethnic dominance, and greed.

30 review for Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel

  1. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Reading this book showed me how much I do not know about our world and its people. Appalling as the atrocities committed in this book and witnessed by Walker, is also the fact that our government and our news stations filter out and slants everything we are told. A hard read but a must read for anyone with a conscience. Yet, even after reading this I am not sure what I individually could do to change anything. Governments have gotten so large and out of hand that they basically do what they want Reading this book showed me how much I do not know about our world and its people. Appalling as the atrocities committed in this book and witnessed by Walker, is also the fact that our government and our news stations filter out and slants everything we are told. A hard read but a must read for anyone with a conscience. Yet, even after reading this I am not sure what I individually could do to change anything. Governments have gotten so large and out of hand that they basically do what they want with autonomy. Or so it shows in this book. Simply shameful, the greed, though this has always been a factor, wanting what someone else has and doing everything to acquire it. This novella makes you want to do something, but what and how?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tessa in North Florida

    Not worth the little bit of paper. I was interested to read about Rwanda, especially, but there's hardly anything here. No poetry, not much fact. Mostly just a few incidents without follow up or even much clarity or understanding of what she is seeing. The author takes her opinions and applies them without any attempt to get facts. She might be right, but it would be totally accidental. Don't waste time on this. Not worth the little bit of paper. I was interested to read about Rwanda, especially, but there's hardly anything here. No poetry, not much fact. Mostly just a few incidents without follow up or even much clarity or understanding of what she is seeing. The author takes her opinions and applies them without any attempt to get facts. She might be right, but it would be totally accidental. Don't waste time on this.

  3. 5 out of 5

    n

    This is written as if it was a transcribed speech. Maybe it was; I didn't catch that detail, if it was written. For those with little knowledge of the varying topics, it's a great starting point. Since it's written as a stream of consciousness from her own experiences in different places (primarily in Gaza, as Congo and Rwanda receive much less attention), it provides a number of topics that could easily lead someone into wanting to research more so that they could learn about the events and atro This is written as if it was a transcribed speech. Maybe it was; I didn't catch that detail, if it was written. For those with little knowledge of the varying topics, it's a great starting point. Since it's written as a stream of consciousness from her own experiences in different places (primarily in Gaza, as Congo and Rwanda receive much less attention), it provides a number of topics that could easily lead someone into wanting to research more so that they could learn about the events and atrocities (those that happened and those that are still continuing). For people who already are aware of these subjects, it's a bit vague. While sharing anecdotes of the people Walker's interact with, it very much misses a lot of what could have been interesting. More testimonials of the people; more parallels to other struggles that have happened and still happen. Less glossing over of certain ones (for instance, the mention of the Trail of Tears as an analogy was considerably lacking). I do like the imagery, though. When she talks about how places like Gaza 'feel at home' because the residents know what struggle is, like the residents of the black neighbourhood she grew up in. Those lines are really poignant, showing the connections between people who struggle and how they can support each other. But it also painted a picture of how some people struggle with supporting others, such as the case with some American Jewish people supporting the Israeli government's tactics against Palestine despite fighting against similar tactics used against Black Americans during the Civil Rights movement (and also talking about her marriage to an American Jewish man whose family declared him dead for marrying a Black woman). For the time it takes to read, it's not bad. It's interesting, though it feels like it needs... more. More of the people she met, more of the affected people, more in the imagery and the conflict between identity and supporting the rights of others.

  4. 5 out of 5

    The Black Syllabus

    A concise & gut-wrenching reminder that all of our struggles are connected; an argument for abolition globally.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sadie

    It's hard to even know how to write about Alice Walker's "testimony" as she encountered the horrors around the globe. Heartbreaking, illuminating, a call to action, despite having no words to describe the deep travesties that continue to exist in our world we must find a way to speak out for change and for justice. So many moving passages in this work among some of my favorite: "What has happened to humanity? More tears of resolve followed. Because whatever has happened to humanity, whatever is c It's hard to even know how to write about Alice Walker's "testimony" as she encountered the horrors around the globe. Heartbreaking, illuminating, a call to action, despite having no words to describe the deep travesties that continue to exist in our world we must find a way to speak out for change and for justice. So many moving passages in this work among some of my favorite: "What has happened to humanity? More tears of resolve followed. Because whatever has happened to humanity, whatever is currently happening to humanity, it is happening to all of us. No matter how hidden the cruelty, no matter how far off the screams of pain and terror, we live in one world. We are one people" (17-18). "Though the horror of what we are witnessing in places like Rwanda and Congo and Burma and Palestine/Israel threatens our very ability to speak, we will speak. And, because almost everyone on planet now acknowledges our collective slide into global disaster unless we profoundly change our ways, we will be heard" (72)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I’m so glad Alice Walker exists 💖

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kiana

    Achingly powerful testimony of the horrors people face in underrepresented parts of the world. Read this to learn Walker's (forever invaluable) insights on the nature of humanity. Achingly powerful testimony of the horrors people face in underrepresented parts of the world. Read this to learn Walker's (forever invaluable) insights on the nature of humanity.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emily Reznicek

    This book is so important for anyone who cares about humans. Walker's descriptions of her experiences in post-genocide Rwanda, and the Gaza strip are knee jerk and in the moment, showing a world that so many of us won't ever take the opportunity to see. This is a difficult read because of the horrors that have happened in these areas and Walker's willingness to explore them candidly. This is not an in depth look at the history of these areas or an explanation of why it happened, but simply one w This book is so important for anyone who cares about humans. Walker's descriptions of her experiences in post-genocide Rwanda, and the Gaza strip are knee jerk and in the moment, showing a world that so many of us won't ever take the opportunity to see. This is a difficult read because of the horrors that have happened in these areas and Walker's willingness to explore them candidly. This is not an in depth look at the history of these areas or an explanation of why it happened, but simply one woman's experiences with those who have survived and live with the consequences daily.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ana Oliveira

    While I extracted some powerful information from this book, there is little to rave on about. The author is quite fond of mentioning names, without necessarily adding any content to whatever the subject at hand is. Indeed, the book has a bigger focus on the trip to Palestine, though I was much more interested in the social political aspects mentioned now and again, of the war waged between Israel and Palestine. It is, on that note, very clear that the author is pro-Palestine.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hattie

    "Some crimes against humanity are so heinous nothing will ever rectify them. All we can do is attempt to understand their causes and do everything in our power to prevent them from happening, to anyone, ever again." Alice Walker has a true gift for writing. Short and poignant. "Our silence will not protect us" -Audre Lorde "Some crimes against humanity are so heinous nothing will ever rectify them. All we can do is attempt to understand their causes and do everything in our power to prevent them from happening, to anyone, ever again." Alice Walker has a true gift for writing. Short and poignant. "Our silence will not protect us" -Audre Lorde

  11. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    touched by plain speaking of how wars contribute to planetary destruction on an environmental level alone. I needed a few breaks from this essay - impressed by such carefully phrased and powerful, beautiful writing of pain.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kim Buis

    While it only mentioned Rwanda a bit at the beginning, I found the chapters on Israel and Palestine fascinating. It made me want to get out there and research some more on that area. This book was easy to read and easy to finish quickly while still getting the point.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    A small insight into Walker’s encounters with the horrors in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and (mostly focused on) Palestine/Israel.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Randall Wallace

    Deeply felt little gem of a book wherein Alice journeys to Gaza and Africa to bear witness and tells us of her thoughts. She asks deep questions pointing out the random borders created historically by Britain with India and Pakistan, or Iraq and it’s neighbors or creating Israel. We force people to live with arbitrary boundaries, force them to live with people they don’t want to live with and then they are all fed the lie that it’s somehow the other’s fault. Her tale of Israel’s theft of Palesti Deeply felt little gem of a book wherein Alice journeys to Gaza and Africa to bear witness and tells us of her thoughts. She asks deep questions pointing out the random borders created historically by Britain with India and Pakistan, or Iraq and it’s neighbors or creating Israel. We force people to live with arbitrary boundaries, force them to live with people they don’t want to live with and then they are all fed the lie that it’s somehow the other’s fault. Her tale of Israel’s theft of Palestine, as well as Sharon’s comments, is brilliant, short, and well worth reading. All this one sided violence because the Jewish people are worried about being out numbered even though that was the way Palestine was historically, a far happier cultural melting pot. She explains how Americans killed its Native Americans because it wanted their land and these days Israeli leadership wants the same from the Palestinians. The world cannot tolerate Israel’s policies and sadly the press only translates that as a direct attack on Jewish faith. Alice says something apologists for Obama have trouble seeing: “consciousness is comforting”. Because when anyone finally takes time to read, study, and learn the terrible things being presently done in all our names, life does not become a world of darkness tempting you back to pseudo-glamorous celebrity culture and shallow notions of success because consciousness is comforting. In other words, people living in occupied zones everywhere have long understood the struggle and understood resistance and that is one of the many beautiful insights of this book. And although Alice doesn’t mention it, with only a few decades of freedom in 450 years in America (Reconstruction failed after 10 years then a North/South compact criminalized black life fueling the American Industrial Revolution until WWII when free labor finally became needed - according to Noam Chomsky), our black population knows struggle and resistance, and it’s deep history with both. Cheers to sister Alice for reminding us of our own “apartheid years”. I’m sorry that absolutely no one mentions the fact in any cocktail conversation or new show anywhere that Britain carved up India and Pakistan, the Middle East, sent criminals to populate Australia, and yet no problems since ever get attributed to them. What’s up with that? Alice wants you to know counter to what our leaders and culture tells us, our silence will not protect us. Resistance has meant survival for all oppressed cultures; today’s oppressed culture is the 99% by the supremely powerful 1% and instead of fighting each other (which the 1% would love) we need unity. And we need to see our struggles are the same across the globe. She reminds us that no matter how far away the screams of pain may be from us, we live in one world. Great book. Read it…

  15. 5 out of 5

    Zora

    Spoiler Alert, this review has content from the book, so don't read this if you haven't read the book yet. Alice Walker's experiences between the Congo, Rwanda, and Palestine are well expressed in this little book. She writes of how human greed that occurs in each place just don't affect their inhabitants but the world, since we are all one people. She brilliantly explains who history repeats itself like the German Holocaust, Rwandan Genocide, and the Black struggles of African American. She Spoiler Alert, this review has content from the book, so don't read this if you haven't read the book yet. Alice Walker's experiences between the Congo, Rwanda, and Palestine are well expressed in this little book. She writes of how human greed that occurs in each place just don't affect their inhabitants but the world, since we are all one people. She brilliantly explains who history repeats itself like the German Holocaust, Rwandan Genocide, and the Black struggles of African American. She writes about what she witnesses as a privileged traveler. She focuses on women and how their loss of children propels them to start a business from which they'll be able to protect their young. She really hones in on how we are all one, and how we she act in challenging times. She also writes of how the government chooses to give us false information about the conflicts that they partake in and American tax payers money funds. She says though how these tragedies leave her speechless but also how through speech such victims can share their story. A truly powerful book about humility and how various people can stand together in a defeating time.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Abbey

    Wow. Clocking in at only 72 pages, I set out to read this book slowly and deliberately - but became so enraptured in the poetry of the language, the graphic nature of the stories, the courage and bravery of truth - that I devoured it in one, quick sitting. This is the sort of book that should be required reading for all humans, and especially the privileged kind (I'm looking at you, USA). Walker floats so seamlessly between the trauma and horrors of from personal accounts in Rwanda, Congo, Pales Wow. Clocking in at only 72 pages, I set out to read this book slowly and deliberately - but became so enraptured in the poetry of the language, the graphic nature of the stories, the courage and bravery of truth - that I devoured it in one, quick sitting. This is the sort of book that should be required reading for all humans, and especially the privileged kind (I'm looking at you, USA). Walker floats so seamlessly between the trauma and horrors of from personal accounts in Rwanda, Congo, Palestine/Israel, USA's civil rights illustrating the interconnection of war, our inter-related histories, and the absolute power that can come out of human compassion and commitment. Highly recommended for anyone who has any opinion on these issues, which should be everyone.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Magdelanye

    is not one to rest on her laurels nor let her poetry stand between her and the world, with which she is actively engaged. Not so gentle warrior, she gives account here of two journeys that she made into post- war zones, one to Rwanda and the eastern Congo in 2006, and to Gaza on 2009. Not poems, but a brave move to give "speech about the unspeakable" p12. Regardless whether I agree with her or not,her dignity and compassion make dialogue possible. "Greed and brutality are not limited to any s is not one to rest on her laurels nor let her poetry stand between her and the world, with which she is actively engaged. Not so gentle warrior, she gives account here of two journeys that she made into post- war zones, one to Rwanda and the eastern Congo in 2006, and to Gaza on 2009. Not poems, but a brave move to give "speech about the unspeakable" p12. Regardless whether I agree with her or not,her dignity and compassion make dialogue possible. "Greed and brutality are not limited to any segment of humanity but will grow wherever it is unchecked, in any society" p66 "our silence will not protect us" p67

  18. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    With the poet's ability to express the inexpressible ��� Walker creates an emotional treatise on experience, tackling the subject of genocide and how, without peace ��� without ending brutal oppression and conflict, the whole planet stands to suffer: our humanity, our sanity and our environment �����she does this all, not in poems, but in prose. Brutal from start to finish, however, entirely required reading in times like these. I recommend picking it up at your favorite local independent booksto With the poet's ability to express the inexpressible ��� Walker creates an emotional treatise on experience, tackling the subject of genocide and how, without peace ��� without ending brutal oppression and conflict, the whole planet stands to suffer: our humanity, our sanity and our environment �����she does this all, not in poems, but in prose. Brutal from start to finish, however, entirely required reading in times like these. I recommend picking it up at your favorite local independent bookstore. I found this at the little gem that is Pilot Books, in Seattle's Capitol Hill. A bookstore not to be missed. Philip Swanstrom Shaw

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lesley

    Short little book… really just a long article. I enjoy her insights and her use of language to share her experience. The title is misleading, though. There are only a few pages about Rwanda and Congo, and don't feel like she really conveyed "overcoming speechlessness." The book is mainly a recounting of a trip she made to Gaza with Code Pink. I think it's important to add a poet's voice to the chorus of opinions about Israel and Palestine… I craved more. I went to Israel last year and came home… Short little book… really just a long article. I enjoy her insights and her use of language to share her experience. The title is misleading, though. There are only a few pages about Rwanda and Congo, and don't feel like she really conveyed "overcoming speechlessness." The book is mainly a recounting of a trip she made to Gaza with Code Pink. I think it's important to add a poet's voice to the chorus of opinions about Israel and Palestine… I craved more. I went to Israel last year and came home… well, mostly speechless. How does one overcome speechlessness? I don't think loss of words is ever Alice Walker's problem… but I still haven't found mine.

  20. 4 out of 5

    AJ

    Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book through Library Thing's Early Reviewers program. -- 3.5 stars -- Overcoming Speechlessness is a series of short vignettes focusing on Alice Walker's experiences in Rwanda, Congo and the Gaza Strip. She draws on parallels between the current struggles for freedom and the civil rights movement that she was a part of in the 1960s. Ultimately, this book is neither depressing nor upbeat, but just is, leaving the reader to dwell on the current sad state of affairs. Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book through Library Thing's Early Reviewers program. -- 3.5 stars -- Overcoming Speechlessness is a series of short vignettes focusing on Alice Walker's experiences in Rwanda, Congo and the Gaza Strip. She draws on parallels between the current struggles for freedom and the civil rights movement that she was a part of in the 1960s. Ultimately, this book is neither depressing nor upbeat, but just is, leaving the reader to dwell on the current sad state of affairs.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    A long-form essay, about Walker's travels to Rwanda, eastern Congo, and Palestine-Israel. Walker feels it's her responsibility as a writer to witness and report these atrocities, calling attention to them. Her evocative and simply-told stories, reactions, and observations are gut-wrenching. Readers will not quickly forget the image of a mother's flesh being hacked from her, fried in a pan, and offered to her child by soldiers. It is not an easy read, but it's even harder to put down. A long-form essay, about Walker's travels to Rwanda, eastern Congo, and Palestine-Israel. Walker feels it's her responsibility as a writer to witness and report these atrocities, calling attention to them. Her evocative and simply-told stories, reactions, and observations are gut-wrenching. Readers will not quickly forget the image of a mother's flesh being hacked from her, fried in a pan, and offered to her child by soldiers. It is not an easy read, but it's even harder to put down.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michael-Ann Cerniglia

    I would give this 3.5 stars if I could. It was a little more stream of consciousness and a bit less poetic than I anticipated. I also hoped for more "witness" account than introspective reflection, which was interesting but more affirming than informative. What I *did* like was how Walker wove various narratives together, particularly contemporary conflicts with the story of the American civil rights movement (not highlighted on the book jacket). I would give this 3.5 stars if I could. It was a little more stream of consciousness and a bit less poetic than I anticipated. I also hoped for more "witness" account than introspective reflection, which was interesting but more affirming than informative. What I *did* like was how Walker wove various narratives together, particularly contemporary conflicts with the story of the American civil rights movement (not highlighted on the book jacket).

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    This short book is about Alice Walker's trips to Rwanda, Congo, and Israel and includes her thoughts on humanity's need to unite as one global entity for peace and the environment. She talks about how she's struggled to hold in the stories of genocide and murder that women have told her and goes into fairly good detail about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It's a gem of a book and just heartbreaking. This short book is about Alice Walker's trips to Rwanda, Congo, and Israel and includes her thoughts on humanity's need to unite as one global entity for peace and the environment. She talks about how she's struggled to hold in the stories of genocide and murder that women have told her and goes into fairly good detail about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It's a gem of a book and just heartbreaking.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    I like the general message of the book, but sometimes I found Walker's tone to be somewhat off-putting as she placed blame for these atrocities on seemingly random or innocuous aspects of society. That said, it was an interesting read and I appreciated the honesty with which Walker protrayed her own reactions and impressions of what she was seeing in these areas of the world. I like the general message of the book, but sometimes I found Walker's tone to be somewhat off-putting as she placed blame for these atrocities on seemingly random or innocuous aspects of society. That said, it was an interesting read and I appreciated the honesty with which Walker protrayed her own reactions and impressions of what she was seeing in these areas of the world.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea

    Whizzed through this today. Such a good book. Alice Walker doing her best (and totally winning) at connecting different social struggles and resistance, while showing the human capacity to adapt and survive in war torn and horrifying places. Joyful, tearful, cutting this book packed a wallop in only a few pages.

  26. 4 out of 5

    林秀英 Kira L.

    A long form poem. Sometimes tragedy is exploited in art as voyeurism or vanity and self-indulgence. Alice Walker makes you forget these pitfalls exist. With deep empathy, Walker threads personal observations into the tragic narratives of people she has encountered. This book is a reminder of why we need artists.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    This was an excellent little eye-opening book. My only gripe is that I wanted to hear more. I realize her intention was not to solve the world's problems in 73 pages. And yes, it made me think, but I think the subject matter deserved a little more detail. This was an excellent little eye-opening book. My only gripe is that I wanted to hear more. I realize her intention was not to solve the world's problems in 73 pages. And yes, it made me think, but I think the subject matter deserved a little more detail.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    An interesting meditation on violence in these countries. The book feels almost like a poem - not quite prose. It felt a little surface, maybe because of the length and the format. A good introduction, but I found myself wanting more from Alice Walker.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Iris Windmeijer

    Overcoming Speechlessness is short and to the point, but it makes me realise that war is just around the corner. The war and trauma of war is something that multiple generations face, all in similar ways. The book surely is an eye-opener.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Theriault

    Beautiful, soulful, insightful, and fulfilling. A must-read for teachers of social justice.

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