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Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by J.P. Stassen, translated by Alexis Siegel

Deogratias by J.P. Stassen on BookDragonIn Latin, Deo gratias, means ‘thanks be to God.’ And yet in Belgian graphic artist/author J.P. Stassen’s arresting title of the same name, gratitude and God have all but disappeared.

The titular Deogratias here was once a teenage boy – mischievous, a little desperate, in love with a girl who doesn’t return his feelings. Over just a few months, he is made inhuman, barely recognizable in filthy rags, crawling through darkness, always in search of the drink that might quell his horrifying visions. He’s devolved into a madman caught in a neverending nightmare of brutality, violence, and ultimately death. 

In stark panels that hold little back, Stassen recreates the Rwandan genocide that began in 1994, when the majority Hutus attempted to wipe out the Tutsi minority population throughout their shared homeland: “This savagery unfolded over a period of more than three months,” translator Alexis Siegel writes in the “Introduction,” “as the world stood by and essentially did nothing.” 

Using black-bordered panels to signify the present, and unconstricted, borderless panels to represent the past, Stassen moves back and forth in time to show the wrenching, nauseating transformation of boy to beast. His work is unflinching, his honesty unsparing, as he exposes the heinous abuses of power – whether in the name of God or man. The casualties include almost a million butchered, but the dead are clearly not the only victims … like Deogratias, survival proves to be unendurable. 

In the two decades since the Rwandan genocide, massacres continue throughout the world – in too many African nations, in the Middle East, and even closer to home. As Stassen’s art bears witness to the inhumane consequences, to read his work is to do the same. To know and acknowledge is the first step toward prevention: compelling books like this can be some of our best guides. 

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2000, 2006 (United States)

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