The World, The Lizard and Me by Gil Courtemanche

Published: 2010 (Original) 2015 (in English)
Original Language: French  
Translated by: David Homel
Publisher: Seren  
Length: 188pp.

This has been one of my favourite reads of the year so far, so much so that I can't believe how underrated this book is. Gil Courtemanche is the author behind 'A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali' which became the renowned film Hotel Rwanda so I am very surprised that (judging by goodreads and amazon) this book has not been very widely read and does not have a large fan base. 

I had low expectations going into this book as it was originally written in French, yet now I know that not all translated French literature is painful to read (thanks for that misconception Victor Hugo!). The story is told in the first person from the perspective of Claude Tremblay a political analyst at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He follows the case of Kabanga, a Congolese warlord, whose trial is derailed and never sees justice, so he travels to the Congo to try and get more information to have him held to account. Kabanga is guilty of doing terrible things to children mainly having them raped and working as child soldiers, and when Claude returns to the Congo the children exact there own revenge.

Yet for me this main storyline is secondary to the relationships Claude has with the children caught up in Kabanga's web of evil and various women in his life, and prostitutes he meets in Africa. The thing I loved most about this book was the way it explored the themes of love and justice and that's what i'm focusing on in this review.


'I don't want to be loved, and I don't want to love. I didn't have the time or the availability.' p.99

Our protagonist Claude feels ignorant about love, it takes hard work, and he's never really been taught how to love especially because of the tragic circumstances in which his parents died when he was young. He finds himself at times with no desire for women, but later he does, and he doesn't quite know how to manage this, he is confused about love and desire and how the two intersect. 

He finds himself in a lot of awkward scenarios with prostitutes, yet develops loving feelings for them. His marriage falls apart due in part to the fact hat neither him nor his wife knows how to love the other properly. He has a tremendous amount of compassion for women who are raped a compassion that his wife does not hold choosing to value women in the west more than women from the developing world. It is the compassion he has for these women, as well as the compassion for the children tied up in the court case in this story that exposes just how capable Claude is of love and that he is in my opinion a very loving man, despite his inability to see it or understand it at times.


'Stealing a childhood is not a crime' was one of my favourite quotes from this book because it summarises a lot of what goes wrong with the court case. Claude hears about such terrible things happening to young children yet they are not valid evidence in the eyes of the court. He understands how such things will be easily dismissed and that you can't bring matters of the heart into justice, at least not in a legal sense, and that's a lot to think about. We relate the words, law, justice, and liberation, truth yet Claude notes distinct difference between all of these. I will leave below a few of my favourite justice quotes from this book.

'Poor children, whom we will subject to the torture of law and not the liberation of justice[…] How do you reconcile the search for truth with legalities?'

'The man wanted to write the history of international law and had no interest in justice.' p.101

'Justice is not concerned with malicious personalities, and judges are not there to reflect on the qualities or faults of the accused, only on his responsibility for the crimes.' p.90

'But revenge even when it's justified, isn't justice. There is the rule of law.' p.158

'Nothing is simple, especially justice.' p.78