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MU Freshman Summer Reading Choice Addresses Rwanda Genocide

2007 Freshman Summer Reading Program Pick: Paul Rusesabagina's 'An Ordinary Man'

April 16, 2007

Story Contact:  Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — "In April 1994, when a wave of mass murders broke out in my country, I was able to hide 1,268 people inside the hotel where I worked." This passage is part of the book University of Missouri-Columbia freshmen will be encouraged to read in the Freshman Summer Reading Program, a campus-wide program designed to unite diverse students in powerful literature before they arrive on campus.

This year, in the program's fourth installment, participants will read An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina, whose life was the inspiration for the movie Hotel Rwanda. In the book, Rusesabagina describes the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 and claimed the lives of 800,000 people. Rusesbagina offered refuge to more than 1,000 people in the hotel that he managed, Hotel Mille Collines, and warded off the army and militia during the genocide to keep them safe.

Freshmen and undergraduates will be asked to participate in small book discussions at the beginning of the fall 2007 semester, and efforts will be made to host a larger event later in the semester.

"This may be the most significant book that has been chosen so far," said David Rielley, senior coordinator of new student programs. "The book addresses a global topic that has been discussed in current events and will lend itself to interesting conversations among students."

Over the course of three months, a committee consisting of faculty, staff and students brainstormed a list of books and later reduced it to a group of finalists, which included The Mercury 13 by Martha Ackmann and Steven D. Levitt, and Stephen J. Dubner's Freakonomics. Lex Akers, who is James C. Dowell Professor and professor and associate dean of academic programs in the College of Engineering, was chair of the committee.

"The book is gripping and real. The story of how one person can make such a difference is powerful," Akers said.

Last summer, students read Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle and had the opportunity to discuss the book with other freshmen and MU faculty members at the start of the fall semester.