Updated on October 27, 2016
Triple graphic novel review
Recently my local library updated its graphic novel section, so I loaded up with three big books and got reading. Here they are!
52. Polina by Bastien Vivès
I’ve previously read Vivès’ A Taste of Chlorine, and I could see some similarities in style between that and Polina, a story about a spirited, stubborn and serious Russian ballerina navigating her way through the competitive world of dance. The story begins with Polina as a very young child attempting to get into the prestigious Bojinsky Academy, and tracks her progress into adulthood, and the career and romance choices she makes along the way.
This novel really addresses different styles of dance, and Polina often finds herself torn between a more classic but possibly outdated form of ballet (personified in her teacher Bojinsky), and a more modern but less widely respected one. I loved how this book addressed the idea of being ‘gifted’, showing that sometimes this term is applied to a person who doesn’t have a natural, easy flare for something, but has simply worked and worked and worked at it for a long time. This is my favourite Vivès book so far.
53. It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken by Seth (G. Gallant)
This semi-autobiographical graphic novel is about Seth, a Canadian cartoonist who becomes obsessed with a rarely published cartoonist called Kalo, whose art he discovers one day in an old copy of the New Yorker. Seth attempts to track down as many of Kalo’s cartoons as possible, and then starts to learn more about the man himself to find out what made him stop drawing.
I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. Although it had some nice self-reflective moments, quite often it tipped over into pretentiousness. For example, at one point Seth is walking down a street, thinking about how ‘phony’ everyone else is and how ‘different’ and ‘complex’ he is in comparison – that just strikes me as annoying-teenager-level crap. The main character also spends a lot of time complaining to his long-suffering friend, Chet, who seems willing to listen to him harp on about his failed relationships and deep character flaws without slapping him and telling him to stop being so bloody self-indulgent. Yeh, nope.
54. Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir by Malik Sajad
Long, autobiographical, set abroad – my big three prerequisites for choosing a graphic novel. The black-and-white drawings and coming-of-age story reminded me of Persepolis, and the animals-as-humans motif (all the Kashmiri in Munnu are represented by deer) was reminiscent of Maus. This book is about Sajad, aka Munnu (which means ‘the youngest’), a boy growing up in 1990s Kashmir, a politically volatile region and the front line for the territorial conflict between India and Pakistan. Munnu’s childhood and young adult years are set against a backdrop of militias, killings in the streets and crackdown searches, and he eventually becomes a political cartoonist writing about the question of Kashmir’s independence.
I think this is a really powerful and engaging novel which confronts the realities of living in a war zone. In the book, Kashmiris can be imprisoned or killed for sympathising with the wrong side (usually Pakistan or independence), and Sajad does a fantastic job of portraying the complexity of the situation rather than giving us simple answers. It’s an honest story about what happens to the people on the ground when two countries fight over territory, and Sajad constantly humanises what is happening by focusing on his family and their day-to-day troubles. As for the ending, it’s incredibly powerful and does not provide a nice comfortable resolution for the reader.
“Don’t let your conscience sabotage this soothing moment. If it still stings … draw, confess your guilt, write a story.” – Munnu
Have you read any of these books or are you planning to? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment!