Thursday, July 05, 2007

like a mad man howling into the night

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

Deogratias is a boy who knows two hot sisters, so when the older rejects him, he'll go for the younger. Just a teenage boy, trying to get some action, like teenage boys everywhere.

But that was then, before. This is now, after.

After the genocide. After the brutal murder of those hot sisters, who were Tutsi. That was then, when he was just a boy, a Hutu boy.

Now, at night, he sees the dogs eating the bodies, he sees the insides of their bellies rise up and dissolve into stars. Now, at night, he is a dog, unless he can get some Urwagwa (banana beer) to hold the madness at bay, for at least another night.

This is less a tale of what happened then, but more what happens now, to the survivors, to the guilty, to the multitudes of guilty. To those guilty of crimes. To those guilty of surviving when those he cared most about didn't.

The graphic novel format, with Deogratias now and flashing back to then is potent. The graphic representation of this madness conveys things differently than words could. It also makes the flashbacks more powerful as the clues that we've switched times are visual, not textual.

Not an easy read, by any means, Stassen has no love in his heart for the role played by the French, as shown in his portrayal of the boorish French army sergeant, who has returned to Rwanda as a tourist.

The introductory notes by Siegal are invaluable in placing things in context, as the book touches on lesser details that many of us who only know the popular news coverage never picked up.


Lotus Reads said...

When I visited the library the other day looking for "Mendel's Daughter" a novel of the Holocaust also in graphic format, I saw that the library has set aside almost half a big room for graphic novels (the librarian said the genre was becoming increasingly popular), but back to the "Deogratias", this definitely sounds like something I would like to read, I am making a note of it and will look for it either in the library or our local bookstore. Would it be a suitable read for a 16-year old do you think?

Jennie said...

Lotus-- I think it is suitable for a 16 year old, but it's not pretty.

There's a lot of blood and dead bodies, and I think maybe some nudity, but none of it is gratutious or lewd. There is also some murder and a lot of drinking, and some ribald humor amongst the characters. (And some characters think it's funny and some think it's disgusting.) Everything is shown in context.

Nothing your average 16 year old can't handle. My library shelves it in the YA section, which we roughly define as 13-18.

I'll be interested to know what you think!

Lotus Reads said...

Thanks so much Jennie, I think I would like my 16-year old to read it...I checked with my local library and sadly they don't have a copy, but I have suggested they buy one. I will probably be able to procure one through an inter-library loan.

Thank you again!