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Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda Paperback – 2 Jun 2006


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Product details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: First Second; 1st American Ed edition (2 Jun. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596431032
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596431034
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 0.7 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 396,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

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 WeeklyDeogratias 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 JournalIn 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 KLIATTIn 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 BookPageNot 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 JournalReview in the Fall 2006 issue of the Michigan Reading JournalThe 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.

About the Author

Stassen won the coverted 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.

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross TOP 500 REVIEWER on 26 Dec. 2006
Format: Paperback
Originally published in Stassen's native Belgium in 2000, this graphic novel takes on the 1994 Rwandan genocide and does a credible job of bringing the horror of that dark stain on recent history to the page. Alternating between the time of the genocide and a time about five years after it, the story follows a young Hutu teenager named Deogratias. Prior to the massacre, we see he is a normal boy trying to get into the pants of two pretty Tutsi sisters. However, in the aftermath of the genocide, he has been reduced to a homeless, ragtag lunatic with only moments of lucidity, who tries to keep horrible memories at bay with the aid of the local banana beer (urwagwa). Those familiar with the kinds of atrocities perpetrated in genocides or civil wars won't be particularly surprised at the final revelation as to what rendered him insane -- nonetheless, it's grim and powerful stuff. There's also a subplot involving a French tourist who served in the French army in Rwanda during the genocide. This exists mainly to highlight the French complicity in allowing the genocide to unfold -- albeit guilt that is only marginally greater than that of other Western powers. What happened in Rwanda serves to point out the emptiness of slogans such as "Never Forget", and while it has been covered by many excellent non-fiction books and films, Stassen is to be commended for bringing the horrific story to another medium. This is rough material, definitely not for kids, although the translator's introduction does a nice job of providing enough background for one to use it in a high school history or ethics class.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sinbad VINE VOICE on 15 April 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is about a young boy driven mad by the horrors that he has witnessed during the Rwandan genocide. The artwork is first class - lovely landscapes and full colour illustration throughout.

My main criticism of the book is that it's just too short and I was left feeling that I still didn't know enough about the subject matter. I was expecting the book to be more like Maus (which really educates you about the Holocaust) but Deogratias is much more of a very short snapshot and lacks the breadth and depth of storytelling that Maus does so well.

Overall, if you appreciate great artwork and want to learn a little about the Rwanadan horrors, you'll enjoy this, but I did feel the story could be expanded to explain more about Rwanda, Rwandan culture in general and the Rwandan genocide.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 12 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The Horror 26 Dec. 2006
By A. Ross - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Originally published in Stassen's native Belgium in 2000, this graphic novel takes on the 1994 Rwandan genocide and does a credible job of bringing the horror of that dark stain on recent history to the page. Alternating between the time of the genocide and a time about five years after it, the story follows a young Hutu teenager named Deogratias. Prior to the massacre, we see he is a normal boy trying to get into the pants of two pretty Tutsi sisters. However, in the aftermath of the genocide, he has been reduced to a homeless, ragtag lunatic with only moments of lucidity, who tries to keep horrible memories at bay with the aid of the local banana beer (urwagwa). Those familiar with the kinds of atrocities perpetrated in genocides or civil wars won't be particularly surprised at the final revelation as to what rendered him insane -- nonetheless, it's grim and powerful stuff. There's also a subplot involving a French tourist who served in the French army in Rwanda during the genocide. This exists mainly to highlight the French complicity in allowing the genocide to unfold -- albeit guilt that is only marginally greater than that of other Western powers. What happened in Rwanda serves to point out the emptiness of slogans such as "Never Forget", and while it has been covered by many excellent non-fiction books and films, Stassen is to be commended for bringing the horrific story to another medium. This is rough material, definitely not for kids, although the translator's introduction does a nice job of providing enough background for one to use it in a high school history or ethics class.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
An emotionally harrowing tale 15 May 2006
By Guy L. Gonzalez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Deogratias is an emotionally harrowing tale of the Rwandan genocide in the mid-90s, told from the perspective of the titular Hutu, and is about as far from a children's book as you can get.*

Leading off with a brief but informative essay about the horrific genocide of nearly one million Tutsi, Rwanda's minority ethnic group, by the Hutus, the majority, while the superpowers of the world stood by and effectively did nothing, translator Alexis Siegel puts the events into historical context and provides a sturdy foundation for J.P. Stassen's gut-wrenching tale. Deogratias is a teenage boy with a teenaged boy's interests, amongst them a fondness for Tutsi girls and Urwagwa (a local banana beer), but when we first meet him, he's a disheveled drifter who's been pushed to the edge of madness by what he's seen and experienced. Stassen takes a risk with the unusual structure of his story, eschewing a linear narrative in favor of switching back-and-forth in time, before and after the massacres, with the only visual cue being the condition of Deogratias' white clothing. As a result, it's not immediately clear where the story is going or what's actually happened that changed him from a happy-go-lucky teen to a delusional drifter who thirsts for Urwagwa and sometimes imagines he's a dog. While the non-linear structure is confusing at times (a second reading is almost mandatory to fully appreciate it), when it all starts to come together towards the end, it offers the kind of slow reveal gut-punch that sticks with you for days.

Stassen's visual storytelling is especially strong throughout, and while he avoids focusing on the actual massacres themselves, the couple of key graphic moments he does show will be seared into your brain and effectively punctuate Deogratias' madness. Beyond those two moments, though, it is his expressive faces and coloring that brings each of his characters to life, from the innocence and determination of Apollinaria and Benina, the Tutsi sisters whose lives are central to Deogratias' fate, to the culpability of fellow missionaries, Brothers Stanislas and Philip, whose hands are as covered in blood as those of the leaders of the countries who ignored what was happening in Rwanda.

Deogratias proves that graphic novels do not have to simply be escapist entertainment, joining the likes of Maus, Palestine and Persepolis as representatives of more than just great graphic novels, but also as powerful, thought-provoking literature.

* Presumably because Deogratias' publisher, First Second, is an imprint of Henry Holt's Roaring Brook Press children's division, Amazon has it improperly categorized, IMO, in two different sub-sections of their Children's Books section. This is heavy material for anyone under the age of 13.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A STORY THAT WILL HAUNT THE READER 9 July 2006
By Tim Janson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Over the years when I've had to defend the medium of comics to my less illuminated friends and co-workers I've been able to point to many examples of works that rise above the mire of the usual. Things like "The Watchmen", "Bone", "Love and Rockets" and others. I will now add "Deogratias" to this distinguished group. The book is the product of Belgium writer/artist J.P. Stassen. The book is told against the backdrop of the brutal ethnic cleansing that took place in Rwanda in the early 90's as the majority Hutu savagely butchered some 800,000 of the minority Tutsi ethnic group as the world looked on and did nothing.

Stassen first provides a brief, but very necessary history lesson about the events that led up the genocide and what has happened after. Stassen now resides in Rwanda with his family. The book if required reading if only for Stassen's opening monologue and history lesson. The story itself moves back and forth in time with the lead title character Deogratias. These shifts in time come with no warning or captions and at first are a little dizzying but you'll soon have it figured out. Deogratias in present time is a pathetic creature, wearing ratty clothing, and addicted to Urwagwa or banana beer. He also seems to be quite mad as other villagers ask him if he is "still a dog?" This will become significant later in the story. We first seem him interacting with a French tourist who was in the military back during the genocide. This character is meant as a representative of the French government who if they didn't actually back the horrors that took place, they turned their back as they went on.

As we move back in time we learn about the past of Deogratias, a Hutu, and others of his village. We see him in school as even the teachers spew hate against the Tutsi. Deogratias is in love with A Tutsi girl named Benina but her mother wants Benina to have nothing to do with him. The radio broadcasts are filled with hateful tirades against the Tutsi who they refer to as cockroaches. Deogratias is expected to take up arms with his Hutu brothers but all he can do is think of saving Benina and her family. Ultimately he will pay for this with his very sanity.

Deogratias is a powerful, tragic, horrifying story. Made all that much more terrible because of the real-life events and even worse by the world's complete lack of action to stop the violence. Was it because this was black on black racism? Was it because there were no strategic locations or oil fields as stake? Whatever the case, This is a story that will haunt the reader for a long time.

Reviewed by Tim Janson
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Not an easy read, but an important one! 24 May 2006
By Armchair Interviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
First published in Belgium in 2000, this translation of Deogratius: A Tale of Rwanda by Alexis Siegel may appear to be like a comic--but it does not have any humorous content.

The setting is 1994 in Rwanda, in Eastern Africa. A bit of history is required. Everyone carried ID cards to designate whether they were Hutu, the majority ethnic group, or Tutsi. Extremists from the Hutu group planned to exterminate the Tutsi minority and kill moderate Hutu who opposed their goal. The ID cards made it easy for the murderers to know who to kill.

The story, told through flashbacks of the days before and after the horrific genocide, is told from the viewpoint of Deogratius, a Hutu boy and Benina, a Tutsi girl.

In the genocide, 800,000 humans are murdered while the world did nothing. The United Nations estimated that 3 million people were murdered as the war spilled over in the neighboring countries to find the refugees from Rwanda.

The graphic author's storytelling is powerful and eloquent. The history lesson is told from the eye of a young boy and an older man--both native and white immigrants, soldiers and others.

Armchair Interviews says: Not an easy read, Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda is an important history lesson told in this manner by the author who now resides in Rwanda with his family.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Dark Graphic Novel for a Dark Time 11 Mar. 2013
By OpheliasOwn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is something about a graphic novel depiction of a horrible situation, war, genocide, etc, that stays with you for a long time. I think it might be the fact that "comics" are assumed to be fun and light-hearted, but graphic novels and even comics have take a whole new approach. They don't limit themselves to fun, slight stories. They can be dark, serious, and very, very real. Jean-Philippe Strassen's graphic depiction of the Rwandan genocide will stay with you long after you have read the last frame. Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda is a powerful book.

The story is told in two parts. It shows the life of Deogratias, a young Hutu man who has been driven mad by the genocide, and it shows his life before the genocide in constant flashbacks. Deogratias was in love with with Appollinaria, but when she turned him down, he started dating her younger sister Benina. He loved both girls. It didn't matter to him that they were Tutsi and he was Hutu, or how their mother made her money to support them. When the President's plane is shot down and the genocide begins, Deogratias hides Benina in his house, but she cannot stay there without knowing what happened to her mother and her sister.

The present time show Deogratias, or what is left of him. He is still a young boy, but he has been driven mad by the things he has seen and the things he has done during the genocide. The people in the village treat him like a pet, a dirty stray dog. At night is when his demons haunt him and he drowns them with local banana beer. It isn't until the very end of the book, after witnessing Deogratias' flashbacks and loss into madness, that you see the return of a foreign priest who fled before the genocide got really bad. With his return, you learn the truth of what happened during the genocide to cause Deogratias' madness.

The illustrations in this book are dark and scary. There are times at the beginning where it is hard to tell what is happening, especially when you see Deogratias start to transform under the stars into a dog. The flashbacks give you part of the story bit by bit, and you have to puzzle everything together. Because you have grown to care and worry about Deogratias, learning the truth about his time in the genocide is very painful. Unfortunately, this is a very true depiction of what happened in Rwanda in 1994. Hutus who lived and worked with Tutsis for their entire lives were forced to kill their family and neighbors to avoid being killed themselves. It is hard to digest, but not because it is a graphic story (although it is), but rather because it is a true story.

I think this story is an incredibly important story for any young adult to read. Because of the horrifying nature of the genocide itself, it would need to be handled with background knowledge and sensitivity for the reader. The introduction by the translator gives a wonderful summary of what was happening in Rwanda during the time before, during and after the genocide. It is perfect for any student who isn't familiar with the events in Rwanda in 1994. The story can be violent and sexually explicit, but that is simply the nature of a genocide where rape was a tool for torture and murder was committed on a scale that is unheard of- 800,000 people in a few short months. So while you might be worried about giving this to a younger student, I understand your concerns, but think the benefits far outweigh the possible concerns, especially if it is taught well and with a strong purpose. I plan to use this graphic novel in my Rwanda unit this year, and am interested to see how my students handle it.
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