Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda by J.P. Stassen

I don't have a problem with depressing books - hey, I enjoy Russian lit, right? So, I don't want you to think that I just need everything I read to be a Chester Cheerful special. Really I don't. But, I also never bought into the old realist school, that said there is some literary value in showing almost anything, just exactly as it is. If the thing you are looking at is only educational, it should be journalism (a fine goal, mind you, but different from 'literature', as it were). Realism should DO something.

And that was my problem with this book. There was a great tragedy in the Rwandan genocide, a horrible ugly human tragedy, the kind that plumbs such dramatic depths that it reveals things about human nature, much like stories about the Holocaust. This one, just doesn't. The story is certainly miserable. It is certainly plausible, and revealing of the ugliness of the situation. If this was journalism, it would be good journalism - it makes one wonder in fact, there is so many ugly stories, I don't understand why Mr. Staassen would make one up, unless he felt the need to do something with it. There is certainly a veneer of symbolism over the book, but it just... didn't seem to end up meaning anything. Just a collection of ugly stories set against the backdrop of a very sad boy, some sad priests, etc. Again, I don't mean to imply the book was bad. IT just felt pointless. War is pointless, sure. I understand this. But narrative is not reality, narrative is how human's look for meaning in the meaningless. So, the meaninglessness, here just feels pointless, and makes it feel as if that's how it ought to be, as if there's no reason for human's to search for anything more. The attempts at hope, meaning, etc, seem kind of absent-minded and incidental, the real emphasis is just 'gosh the Rwandan massagre was bad.' Which it was, sure. But help me UNDERSTAND it, not just LOOK at it. Or understand that it's not understandable. OR understand that humans can still be human in the midst of it. OR something. Or something. I dunno, this was just sort of a hollow news report.


Amanda said...

I'll just say that I was originally going to read this book for my graphic novel challenge, got through the first fifty pages with Jason, and decided I would go no further.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Thanks for this review. I watched the movie "Hotel Rwanda," which was also bleak, but it did contain a spark of hope, which makes all the difference.

L said...

I read another account of this genocide last year. Her name was Imaculee and it was quite the story. All but one of her family members were brutally murdered by their neighbors.

Some kind of war tribunal ended last year, with several men convicted of starting the atrocities. 800,000 dead I think. This all happened the year my first son was born. Truly horrific.

Amanda said...

The history lesson at the beginning of the book was interesting. I'd never heard of this conflict before. But seeing it in drawing was too much for me.