________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 13 . . . . February 16, 2007


Genocide. (Groundwood Guides).

Jane Springer.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi, 2006.
144 pp., pbk. & cl., $12.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 978-88899-682-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-88899-681-7 (cl.).

Subject Headings:

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Greg Bak.

**** /4


French philosopher Jean Baudrillard says that ‘Forgetting the extermination is part of the extermination itself,’ reminding us that forgetting a genocide took place is built into the perpetrators’ planning of the crime. Therefore, part of countering a genocide is ensuring that the events are talked about, that the history is written down, discussed and passed on.

It is crucial not just to remember those who died, but to understand how and why a genocide happened in order to work against it happening again. And remembering is also necessary to help survivors and the victimized group as a whole begin to recover from their trauma. (pp. 91-92)


In Genocide, Jane Springer provides an agonizingly methodical overview of genocide as a concept and a crime, focusing primarily on the twentieth century. Sadly, restricting herself to the past one hundred years does not leave her short of material.

     The book opens with the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and from this point forward Springer refuses to allow genocide to become an issue for historians. History is invoked but only to illustrate aspects of Springer’s study, including theories of genocide, responding to genocide and preventing genocide. Interspersed throughout are text boxes, some of them providing further detail on specific issues, others providing an in-depth look at one particular genocide. The driving force of Springer’s argument is simply this: everyone except the victims bears responsibility for every genocide. Genocidaires – in Rwanda, in the former Yugoslavia, in Sudan – get away with murder not because they are clever, but because the world looks on and chooses to do nothing. Springer notes that Genocide Watch, an international NGO, lists almost two dozen countries where genocide is happening right now.

     Though the topic is a dark one, Springer’s passionate plea against the status quo lends her book an urgency and immediacy that pulls the reader equally through the dry legalism of United Nations statutes and the vivid horrors of genocides past and present. If all bear responsibility for genocide, Springer is quick to remind us of the necessary corollary, that anyone can fight genocide – all it takes is knowledge and determination. One way of fighting genocide is to stay informed about genocides happening today and those that happened in the past. As she notes in the extract, above, the act of remembering alone thwarts the intentions of the genocidaires. More than this, readers can help to fight the objectification of others. “Individuals must commit themselves to speak out against racism, sexism, discrimination and persecution at every level,” she declares, “refusing to participate in gay bashing or any type of bullying, or even to laugh at racist, sexist and ethnocentric jokes” (p. 104-105). Springer brings genocide into contemporary society, reminding her readers that every genocide begins as a hate crime.           

     It is not expected that a book about genocide will make light reading, but Springer’s occasionally very dense writing may leave some readers scratching their heads. Thankfully, such moments are rare. For the most part, the book moves quickly and flows well. This is an important book for any teen collection, and one that will likely be passed from reader to reader, even after it has successfully met the research needs of school projects.

Highly Recommended.

Greg Bak is a librarian working in Ottawa. His first book, Barbary Pirate, will be published by Sutton in Canada in March, 2007.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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