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.
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.