Review: Deogratias by Jean-Philippe Stassen

321100Title: Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda

Author: Jean-Philippe Stassen

Publisher: First Second

Publication Date: 2006

ISBN: 9781596431034

Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The 2000 winner of the Goscinny Prize for outstanding graphic novel script, this is the harrowing tale of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, as seen through the eyes of a boy named Deogratias. He is an ordinary teenager, in love with a girl named Bénigne, but Deogratias is a Hutu and Bénigne is a Tutsi who dies in the genocide, and Deogratias himself plays a part in her death. As the story circles around but never depicts the terror and brutality of an entire country descending into violence, we watch Deogratias in his pursuit of Bénigne, and we see his grief and descent into madness following her death, as he comes to believe he is a dog.

Deogratias is a subtle tale of the horrors of the Rwandan genocide. The images bounce between the past and present without definitively identifying what is flashback and what is not. The only way to know where you are in the story is to note the state of Deogratias’ clothes: is he tattered or fresh? It makes it a bit difficult to know exactly where you are in the story if you happen to let your attention slip. It is a graphic novel that needs a careful and watchful read, saying so much through the images rather than stating things obviously through the writing.

The portrayal of Deogratias as he descends into madness is stunning and moving. He loses his humanity as he loses his mind, becoming a dog. The cruelty he witnesses as the genocide breaks out drives him mad. He cannot cope and he no longer seems to be able to differentiate between what is reality and what is memory. The subject matter is difficult to swallow, but it is truthful. The introduction outlines the horrors of the Rwandan genocide, providing clear context to the tale that follows. It balances the factual with the more personal experience of Deogratias and his companions. The panels reveal racism, cruelty, genocide, while differentiating between the times before the genocide, and the world as it degrades around them.

It’s a terribly sad story, but it remembers the genocide in an accessible way. The graphic novel form brings this terrible time to life once again so that readers might learn and understand this awful time.

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