Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda

Stassen, illustrated by the author

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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.

Told with great artistry and intelligence, this book offers a window into a dark chapter of recent human history and exposes the West's role in the tragedy. Stassen's interweaving of the aftermath of the genocide and the events leading up to it heightens the impact of the horror, giving powerful expression to the unspeakable, indescribable experience of ordinary Hutus caught up in the violence. Difficult, beautiful, honest, and heartbreaking, this is a major work by a masterful artist.

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Reviews

Praise for Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda

Starred review in 5/1/06 issue of Kirkus

An award-winning graphic novel grapples with the unthinkable. Deogratias, a Hutu youth barely out of his teens, now appears as a shambling wreck in ragged clothes, drinking steadily and barking like a dog. But a series of seamless flashbacks reveals a younger, happier Deogratias, remarkable only for his mundanity. Despite poverty, prostitution, and racial condescension, his friends enjoy a lively multiethnic culture: Deogratias romances a Tutsi girl while secretly yearning for her mulatto half-sister. Meanwhile, a steady background drumbeat of ethnic hatred builds to a horrific crescendo in the genocide of 1994, when 800,000 Rwandans are butchered by their neighbors. Neither hero nor villain, Deogratias tries to spare himself and his loved ones, trapped in a shocking spiral of violence, betrayal, and madness. While Stassen's simple layout and spare images may appear static at first, the uncluttered art, reminiscent of jewel-toned woodcuts, serves to underscore the erupting brutality. Only a few of the panels depict the actual massacre, still, the ghastly subject matter, sexual themes and coarse language, along with the elliptical narrative structure, restrict this title to a mature audience. Nonetheless, the importance of the story and the heartbreaking beauty of its presentation make it an essential purchase. (Graphic novel. YA)

Review in 3/15/06 Booklist

"Stassen, a Belgian who lives in Rwanda, depicts the horror and violence (including brutal rape and the starvation of children) in small, compact panels and uses moody colorings and expressive characterizations to convey much of the human tragedy. . . . this book vividly shows the power of fiction to introduce fact."

Starred Review in 3/27/06 Publisher's Weekly

Deogratias means "thanks be to God," and it's the name of a boy coming of age in Rwanda in 1994. He is just figuring out what it means to be a man, and wrestling with the feelings he harbors toward two sisters, Apollinaria and Benina. The sisters are themselves struggling to establish their own place in society and understand the difficult decisions their mother, Venetia has made—Apollinaria's real father is a white Catholic priest, and Venetia has been forced to leave the country in the past to save her daughters. But Deogratias is a Hutu, and they are Tutsi, a simple fact that renders all of their internal battles irrelevant. This award-winning comic was originally published in Belgium in 2000 and has an introduction explaining the history leading to the Rwandan genocide. The heartbreaking power of Deogratias is how it keeps the reader distant from the atrocities by showing the trivial cruelties of everyday life before and after the genocide. Stassen is a journalist who lives in Rwanda, and his art is bold and clear, using different color palettes to seamlessly shift between before and after. There is no catharsis, only the realization that even justice turns its champion into a monster.

Review in August 2006 issue of School Library Journal

In this harrowing fictionalized account of the Rwandan genocide, readers meet Deogratias, a teenaged Hutu. His friends Benina and Apollinaria are Tutsi-a race that is being ethnically cleansed by Hutu extremists. As the conflict escalates, Deogratias witnesses murders and is forced to become involved in brutal acts of violence. He suffers a mental breakdown. The story is told through a series of flashbacks while he skates the line between rational and insane. Stassen spares his readers none of the brutality and visceral cruelties of this atrocity. Scenes of rape, harsh language, and some sexual content solidly designate this book for a mature audience. An introduction sets the backdrop and explains the historical significance of the period. This is one of the most intense, gripping graphic novels to date; libraries with other factually themed titles, such as those by Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi, and Art Spiegelman, should purchase it. A masterful work with vibrant, confident art, this book will stay with and haunt its readers.-Jennifer Feigelman, Goshen Public Library and Historical Society, NY

Review in 9/1/06 issue of KLIATT

In 1994, members of the ruling Hutu tribe of Rwanda used the assassination of their president as an excuse for genocide. The Hutus killed 800,000 members of the Tutsi, the second tribe in Rwanda; the murders were carried out mostly by hand (in 1993 the government ordered enough machetes from China to distribute them to every third Rwandan male). While this happened, the world did nothing. Deogratias takes place after the massacre. The main character, Deogratias, is a troubled youg man whose story is told mostly through flashbacks. Deogratias likes a pair of sisters—Benina and Apollinanaria—who are Tutsis. He thinks that racial distinctions were invented by white people, but when the killings start, he joins the mobs. Afterwards, traumatized by his actions, he roams the countryside, sometimes as a man, sometimes as a dog.

Deogratias is less graphic than might be expected from its subject matter, but it doesn't pull any punches. This graphic novel's worldview is bleak: Deogratias is a tale with no heroes. The full-color art can be both brutal and beautiful, and is extremely effective. Deogratias contains profanity (f-bomb, s-bomb), sexuality, graphic imagery and violence. It is highly recommended for libraries with collections catering to older, more mature teens only; the best place for this graphic novel is the adult section. —George Galuschak, YA Libn., Montvale PL, Montvale, NJ

Review in the October 2006 issue of BookPage

Not so much a memoir as a valuable historical document, Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda, written and illustrated by Stassen, provides a beautiful but harrowing reading experience. It follows the grin fate of a boy trapped in the midst of the Rwandan genocide, putting the violence into narrow focus by showing its devastating effects on just one young life. The lust, saturated beauty of Stassen's artwork provides a stark contrast with the brutal world he's recording.

The Michigan Reading Journal
Review in the Fall 2006 issue of the Michigan Reading Journal

The history of Rwanda is mind numbingly sad with its history of torture and genocide between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples. Deogratias is a Hutu boy in love with Benina, a Tutsi girl. The story travels back and forth in time, so pay attention to page layout and design! Deogratias begins transforming into something less than human, and by the time he "makes love" to Benina, he is pictured as more animal than human. This book would not be nearly as powerful if it were not a graphic novel. Deogratias will NOT be popular; it is a chilling, difficult book to experience. The natural world is turned upside down in this book, the subject matter brutal. Deogratias is worth a look, especially for readers who wonder about the literary value of graphic novels.


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About the Author

Stassen, illustrated by the author

Stassen won the coveted Goscinny prize for Deogratias, and has developed other stories that offer a window into African daily life. His artwork is remarkably distinctive and eminently readable. He lives in Rwanda with his family.

Stassen

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Available Formats and Book Details

Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda
Stassen, illustrated by the author

Award

American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens

Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback
First Second
May 2006
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781596431034
ISBN10: 1596431032
Graphic Novels
6 x 8 1/2 inches, 96 pages, Full-color illustrations throughout
Age Range: 14 to 18
Grade Range: 9 to 13
$18.99
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