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Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda

Words by J. P. Stassen - Art by J. P. Stassen - Published by First Second - First published 2006

When we read about horrific events like the Rwandan genocide in 1994, it's almost impossible to truly fathom what impact it had. Although the slaughter of 800,000 in 100 days is a statistic of immense power, it's still only a statistic, reflecting little of the actual human cost. In Deogratias, we are helped to understand a little more of the price that the Rwandan people have had to pay, as we follow the story of a young boy who finds himself swept through the events with little control over his own destiny.


Deogratias's age is undisclosed but he's clearly not far out of puberty, chasing the local girls and hoping to notch up his first sexual conquest. This isn't a boy with much of a care for politics but, through the distribution of identity cards and hateful radio broadcasts, it soon becomes obvious that he'll either have to join his Hutu tribesman in slaughtering every Tutsi they come across, or be killed himself.

It's no decision for a young boy to have to make and he chooses survival, but at great cost to his conscience and sanity. The story starts with a view of what Deogratias has become - a transient alcoholic, seeing himself as little more than a scavenging dog and justifiably paranoid that everyone is out to get him - and pulls back through his memory to fill in the gaps between the innocent young boy and the ghost he's become.

Naturally, when dealing with a subject like this, there are images intended to shock, but the subject matter is treated with incredible grace, both through the script and the artwork. Stassen's drawing is simple yet rich in emotion and natural colour. His writing is spare - the later Deogratias can do little more than mumble requests for more banana beer - while his depiction of life before the genocide shows a world full of the riches of youth and happiness.

It's a harrowing and sad tale but an important one, beautifully told and well worth the time of anyone interested in the real-world horrors that humanity is capable of inflicting on itself.

If you like this graphic novel, why not try...
When the Wind Blows
Story:5 stars
Art:4 stars
Overall:5 stars
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