Stassen, J.P. Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda. Trans by Alexis Siegel. Intro. By Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse. First Second. 2018. $21.99. 78p. ISBN 978-1-250-18964-6. Ages 15+. P9Q9
Early in the 20th century, Germans and Belgians made one Rwandan tribe, the Tutsis, the elite ruling group over the poorer farming Hutus. In 1994, the Hutus rose in rebellion to exterminate the Tutsis and killing 800,000 people in 100 days. This genocide is seen through the eyes of Deogratias, “thanks be to God,” a Hutu teenager in love with Apollinaria, a Tutsi. As darkness descends through the brutal revels in the graphic novel, he goes from an ordinary boy to believing that he is a dog, possibly from the toxic banana beer that he drinks to forget the past. The narrative also includes the hypocrisy of whites, some of them priests, who go to Rwanda to help the people but simply use them for their own means. Black bordered panels depict current events, and borderless panels represent the past war and carnage as the boy goes through his transformation by being forced into murdering two Tutsi friends. The heaviness of the boy’s experiences is heightened by the black outlines of people and the dark hues.
Verdict: Some people may consider Stassen’s grim narrative inappropriate for teenagers, but it shows the life of many people in the world as massacres occur throughout the world and people continue their inhumane behavior. This brilliant work communicates the horror and heartbreaking lives of ordinary Hutus who were unable to avoid the tragedy of their country.
April 2019 review by Nel Ward.
[Editor’s note: Originally published in Belgium by Dupuis, Deogratias won the 2000 Goscinny Prize for outstanding graphic novel script.]