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J. P. Stassen, Transl. Alexis Siegel
First Second
Jun 2006
"Another madman... All that's left are corpses, madmen and dogs..."

Stassen beautifully captures the colour and the sense of calm of the Rwandan environs by day and by night in �Deogratias�. There is an appalling juxtaposition between this and the horrors perpetrated against the Tutsi as the Hutu vie for supremacy of the land in the aftermath of colonial �divide and rule� tactics.

Told in the form of a graphic novel, �Deogratias� follows a boy of the same name as he jointly wanders the streets of the present and achingly struggles, quite literally, to drown his sorrows through drinking Urwagwa, the banana beer that is traditional in his country.

Three depictions of Deogratias are presented within the book, the first sees him wide-eyed with horror, dressed in tattered clothing, the second as an immaculately presented young man, keen to impress the Tutsi young ladies Apollinaria and Benina. The third and most disturbing sees Deogratias take on the appearance and characteristics of a dog, the shocking reason for which becomes apparent as the story unfurls�

Essentially a story of love and of loss, what makes �Deogratias� such a memorable, abhorrent and at once vitally important read is the central role Deogratias plays in the genocide of the Tutsi, the pack-mentality that he becomes a part of and the dog-eat-dog attributes that engulf him both physically and mentally following this. As readers we live our experiences vicariously alongside Deogratias, feel his anger, hurt, sorrow and pain.

Alexis Siegel, the translator provides a useful introduction that contextualises the history of the decimation of the Tutsi people. This grounds the novel in a realism that cannot easily be shed and which, by consequence, spreads a chill throughout the course of the book.

If the cry of �never again� which followed the Holocaust is to have meaning, an understanding of the types of brutality exercised against a set of people, an awareness of the mechanics that drive conflict and that see difference only as threat needs to be located firmly into the consciousness of society. Creative works such as �Deogratias� play a key role in achieving that by making one think and feel more, stimulating empathy, understanding and the deep-stirrings of compassion.

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This page contains a single entry by Jacob published on July 11, 2006 12:28 PM.

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