Readers of The Lost Art


March 4th, 2009


Author and Artist: J. P. Stassen

Translation: Alexis Siegel

Reviewer: Aaron

In any attempt to relay what Deogratias is about it is necessary to give some back-story to one the worst genocides to occur in the latter half of the Twentieth century, a fact acknowledged in the book’s own introduction.

The Rwandan Genocide took place over the course of 100 days in early 1994, fanned by underlying racial tensions between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis and sparked by the assassination of the Hutu president, resulting in the deaths of between 800,000 and 1,071,000 Tutsis and any Hutu who attempted to protect them. In this time the U.N did nothing to halt the genocide, even at one point reducing its presence in the country, while two million people were displaced and hundreds of thousands were murdered because of their ethnicity.

Deogratias is the story of a young Hutu caught up in these events, and traces his life before, during and after the Genocide illuminating the build up to and fall out from this terrible event.

We see Deogratias first as a burnt out wreck of a human being, shuffling around his hometown like a ghost in tattered clothing, begging for beer and being the butt of any number of jokes. The story then takes us back into his past and life before the genocide, where we see a portrait of a typical teenage boy, obsessed with girls, drinking and girls. As we skip back and forth through time we are given an insight into the state of the country in this period and are given the chance to get too know the characters before the inevitable tragedy occurs. The story itself is not particularly complex, but it does give the reader an insight into the characters on display and the environment that could breed the violence and hatred that came about.

Deogratias is not a perfect book. The time shifts are at times somewhat confusing, particularly on a first read, with little to differentiate between the time frames. The art will not be to everyone’s taste, and initially it wasn’t too mine, though on reflection I felt that it often enriched the story, particularly in the scene’s depicting Deogratias’ mental state. Also, those hoping for an in-depth look of the politics of Rwanda, of the U.N. ‘s indecision or the broader scope of this tragedy may be left disappointed.

Deogratias is all about the individual’s experience of the genocide, and taken on that level it is a superb book and a harrowing reminder of an event that is repeatedly in danger of being repeated. It never stoops to the level of preaching too the audience, this book simply invites the reader look at the actions of this individual caught in the tide, and the consequences visited upon him.

It is a very important book that along with the likes of Maus and the works of individuals such as Joe Sacco continues to challenge the subject matter that can be tackled in the comic medium. Emotional, compassionate and very human, Deogratias is an excellent comic that is not easily forgotten.


Paperback: 96 pages Full Colour

Publisher: First Second Books

Language: English

ISBN: 1-59643-103-2

(First published 11/01/2007.)

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