Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Attack

When I bought this graphic novel I presumed it was about a terrorist attack in the Middle East, which it is.  However, the plot was much different than I expected.

Amin Jaafari is an Arab and a naturalized Israeli citizen living in Tel Aviv.  He is also a surgeon and lives a life of luxury compared to that of his fellow Arabs. When his wife Sihem is identified as a suicide bomber who killed 19 people in a restaurant, Amin has to comes to grips with how she decieved him. He had no idea that she had terrorist leanings. Amin then travels to Palestinian areas in order to discover how his secular wife became radicalized.

I loved this book. The author does not take a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, unusual in a book taking place in the Middle East. He shows both sides along with the stress and grief that they both share in this conflict. 

Red Rosa

Kate Evans' Red Rosa is a graphic biography of Rosa Luxemburg.  I was not familiar with Luxemburg before reading this biography but I found that she was a woman ahead of her time.  Rosa was a passionate socialist who did alot of writing and speaking to educate and inspire many people to her cause. She was the only woman of her era, the early 1900s, to have this power.

She was born and raised in Poland but also lived in Germany promoting her beliefs. She was tough enough to question the beliefs and actions of both Marx and Lenin. She also did not care for society's role for women and chose not to marry, prefer to have lovers instead. She was truly a woman in control of her life and I admire that.

As a feminist myself, I was surprised that I had not heard of Rosa Luxemburg before seeing this book.  She was certainly a female powerhouse of the twentieth century and belongs in studies on women's history.  Unfortunately, none of the courses I took in college mentioned her.

Ladies, this is a must read!

Nanjing: The Burning City

I was disappointed in Ethan Young's Nanjing. It is a wartime narrative of the fall of China's former capital city Nanjing to the Japanese in 1937. The book showcases 2 Chinese soldiers who were caught in the city after it was captured by the Japanese.

I did not learn much about the WWII fight commonly known as the Rape of Nanjing. Perhaps I am used to this type of story being told as a reportage comic which has tons of detail via the dialogue.  There is little dialogue in Nanjing and the artwork consists of black and white drawings in comic strips.

Unfortunately, I can only give this graphic novel 1 out of 5 stars. It just didn't teach me anything about this episode in history.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Safe Area Gorazde

Safe Area Gorazde is the story of the town of Gorazde in eastern Bosnia during the Bosnian War in the early 1990s.  It is told from the point of view of the reportage cartoonist Joe Sacco who was a U.N. journalist who traveled there 4 times during the war.  The U. N. had designated Gorazde as a safe area during the war but it was anything but safe. The community had been majority Muslim before the war began but most of them were slaughtered by the Serbs throughout the war.

The story is heavy on the fighting with interludes on silly teenage girls and parties with local residents. Much of the information on Gorazde comes from the author's guide Edin, a grad student.  Also, refugees arriving in Gorazde tell about the atrocities they saw in their hometowns, including mass executions, that they were forced to flee from. There is also information on Yugoslavia from the end of WWII to the beginning of the Bosnian War. After WWII the different ethnicities lived together peacefully under the authoritarian leadership of Tito. After Tito's death, Slobodan Milosevic took power and began inciting ethnic hatred.

While I had read much about this war while it was ongoing, I learned alot about it from the first person accounts that the author provided in the book.

The book offers a good history of this war. History lovers will want to check this one out.

Killing and Dying

This was not my favorite graphic novel. It is a compilation of 6 separate comics.  While they were amusing, I prefer to have one story told in a "novel."

The comics included "Hortisculpture," "Amber Sweet," "Go Owls," "Translated From the Japanese," "Killing and Dying," and "Intruders."  My favorites were "Hortisculpture" which is about a new art form that combines sculpture and gardening, "Amber Sweet" which is about mistaken identity and "Killing and Dying" which is about parenthood.

The style of the artwork is minimalist drawings done in comic panels. Most are black and white but every few pages there is color.

I hate to give an author a poor rating on a book when I am predisposed to not liking it in the first place.  I won't do that.  If you are the type of graphic novel reader who likes seeing a series of different comics in one book, you will enjoy this one. 

Threads From the Refugee Crisis

OMG!  I learned so much from this graphic novel on life in a refugee camp in Calais.  The book is about the author's volunteer work at the "Calais Jungle" refugee camp in Calais, France which was dismantled last year. She uses full color graphics and changing font styles to tell her story.
In Threads you will meet some refugees, see their living conditions, and hear their stories. 

This is a heavyweight book and it took me some time to get through it. I was shocked at how the camp looked and was run.  I was also shocked by how much the involvement of the local police had a negative effect on the refugees. It seems that while some of the refugees had established a sense of humanity in their living conditions, the police destroyed homes and disrupted that sense of normalcy. The author told a story about a pregnant refugee with 5 year old twins who was beat up by the police for no reason and lost her kids. Having the graphics drawn showed me much more than I have ever learned from a traditional news report. As the inside cover blurb states it is filled with "poignant images-by turns shocking, infuriating, wry and heartbreaking." This is an accurate decription. The images are drawn in a childish style that contrasts with the seriousness of the subject matter.

When I finished reading Threads I felt emotionally upset. The author did a great job at showing the horrors of being a refugee. However, her approach to the political issue of immigration, at the conclusion of the book, will probably only appeal to those who already agree with her viewpoints. I think she could have changed some people's minds about immigration if she had used a different type of appeal. 

Threads is one if the best graphic novels that I have ever read and everyone should read it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Soviet Daughter

Soviet Daughter is a family saga about the Ignatovka family from Kiev. The graphic novel covers the family during the 20th century and into the 21st century from the author's great-great-great-grandmother to the author herself in the present time in America.

Julia Alekseyeva's great-grandmother Lola was born in 1910 to an impoverished Jewish family. Lola only attended school through the 4th grade due to her responsibilities to her family. She connected with only one person in the family, her own grandmother. However, she always had good jobs with the Bolsheviks, Stalinists, Red Army and the KGB. Her family was able to escape the pogroms and while they had little to eat they were better off than others. After the Chernobyl accident most of the family emigrated to the U. S., including the author who was 4 years old at the time.

This book gives a fascinating insight into life in Russia and the Ukraine during the 20th century. As such, it is an important history book for the younger generation to learn about the travails of this era. 

Lennon: The New York Years

Lennon: The New York Years is not really about John Lennon's life living in New York City but rather his life from birth until death.  The storyline of this graphic novel follows several sessions that Lennon had with a psychiatrist while he was living in New York during which he discusses his entire life.

I was quite surprised to read that both of John Lennon's parents abandoned him as a child and that he was raised by an aunt and uncle. With his mother coming in and out of his life as a youth he had serious mental issues. When he began to learn music Lennon started to come out of his shell, using music as therapy.

The book covers the forming of the Beatles, their rise to fame, the crazy years touring and recording albums and their breakup.  I thought it was interesting that when Lennon met Yoko Ono she was able to erase all of the pain he had lived with from his childhood.  I did not know that before. His murder by John Chapman is also covered.

I had read some negative reviews of the book before reading it.  I totally disagree with those reviewers.  This is a fabulous biography of one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century and I learned alot about him.  This is a must read.

The Customer is Always Wrong

"The Customer is Always Wrong" is a continuation of Mimi Pond's 2014 "Over Easy." It is the story of her life as a waitress in the 1970s. However, she does not use her real name. Her alter ego is Madge and she showcases the sleazy people that she works with as well as the customers.

Madge is a fledgling cartoonist who works at the Imperial Cafe in Oakland, CA which is managed by the goofy Laszlo.  Most of her co-workers are drug addicts who may or may not be able to work on a given day.  Instead of the story focusing on Madge, Laszlo's family life is prominent.  This does not mean that it isn't exciting.  The book was engrossing and I read all of its 450+ pages in one sitting.

What is special about this book is the author's ability to create a plot with many twists and turns. I do not usually see a graphic novel that is so heavily plotted. This is a must read for graphic novel fans.  It's a 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey

Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey is a graphic memoir of the author's life as a student in post-coup Turkey where she grew up. This coming of age story takes place in the 1980s and early 1990s covering the author beginning primary school in Izmer and attending college in Istanbul. The artwork includes both doodling and collage work.

Ozge Samanci's parents were both teachers.  Her mother taught sewing at a vocational women's high school and her father taught technical drawing at a vocational men's high school. Her father wanted both Ozge and her older sister Pelin to become engineers so that they could get good jobs and have a better life. Pelin wanted this career but Ozge had other ideas like being an actress, an oceanographer, or an artist. Wanting to please her father, both Pelin and Ozge cram studied in order to get into the best school that would guarantee their admission to the best colleges. Pelin was successful but Ozge could not pass her entrance exams.

While she was growing up Ozge was fascinated by Turkish leader Ataturk and frequently would apologize to his picture when she felt she did not live up to his ideals. She also idealized Jacques Cousteau and had a poster of him up on her bedroom wall. Together they would discuss what Ozge's role in life should be.  

Ozge eventually gets into the college Pelin was attending but could only get in as a math student. After flunking most of her classes she eventually graduates but knows she cannot work as a mathematician. As her Jacques Cousteau poster told her, she had learned how to learn by studying math and was prepared to learn whatever she wanted, including art.

I loved this book. It seems that the ending was abrupt and I believe a sequel is needed to finish the author's story. She is currently a professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois where I live. I am curious as to how she got there.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

I Remember Beirut

Zeina Abirached, in her follow-up graphic novel to A Game For Swallows, concentrates in I Remember Beirut on those things that she remembers about her life living in war torn Beirut in the 1980s. There is no formal plot. Each page begins with "I remember" and talks about a different memory she has such as the sound of unwrapping a Kitkat candy bar, never having running water and that the school bus did not stop in her neighborhood.

The artwork is the same used in A Game For Swallows.  The drawings are stark black and white.  Each time the letter "o" is used in a word the author placed a dot inside it. This is a bullseye and shows how victimized the residents feel about the war.  It is a most unconventional graphic style but works well for the story the author is telling.

I loved the book but must admit "Swallows" is better.

The Arab of the Future 2

This book is part two of the author's biography of his childhood.  It covers the years 1984 - 1985 and will be continued in another installment of the series.  Like the first book, the artwork consists of line drawings with color schemes for different places that the author lived at.  As he did in the earlier book, Sattouf uses pink for his life in Syria and blue for visits to his mother's native France.

When this story opens it is time for Riad Sattouf to begin school.  He is terrified because he does not speak Arabic, knows no other kids and stands out due to his blonde hair. Some of the kids think he is Jewish because he is blonde but Riad denies this. His Lebanese father is a university professor so the family has some status. Riad meets two kids who become his friends and together they all share a healthy fear of their teacher, a woman who enjoys hitting her students in the hands with a stick.

The story covers one school year, Riad's summer visit to his mother's family in France and the beginning of his second year in school. I think the first book was a little better.  It covered his life from birth to age 5. It had more action as the family moved to 5 different countries during this period of time. However, I am interested in reading however many installments to this series that are written.  The series gives an interesting perspective of a child with European and Arabic ancestry living in the Middle East.