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Nicole is a recent transplant from Vermont and a graduate of Evergreen State College.
Anxiety thrums through this short graphic memoir. The story
is set in Beirut in 1984, during the fifteen-year long Lebanese civil war.
Zeina and her younger brother have been left at home by their parents, who have
undertaken the dangerous journey to visit the children’s grandmother: one by
one, they are joined by their neighbors, who share food, whiskey, and stories
to pass the time. Absence becomes a running theme in both the art and the
story. Abirached makes excellent use of negative space in her art, with her
characters shown to be small and helpless against circumstance. Without ever
showing a dead body or a pool of blood, Abirached manages to portray the horror
of war: bomb blasts, sniper fire, grief, death, and fear.
It’s inevitable that Zeina Abirached's graphic memoir will
be compared to Marjane Satrapi's famous Persepolis:
both authors are women from the Middle East, both memoirs center on a family
living through armed conflict, and both are drawn in a stark, black and white
A Game For Swallows,
however, reads like a one act play compared to Satrapi’s epic. It’s short,
direct, and self-contained. Abirached’s art is slightly more cartoonish – there
are men built tall as flagpoles and squat as pumpkins – but beautiful and
original. The story’s focus is on its characters, who are all vividly drawn and
imagined, and the small community they create despite the war raging around
them, but which inevitably falls apart. The absence of Abirached’s parents in
the beginning is matched by the family’s exodus at the end – like a million
other Lebanese citizens, Abirached and her family were forced to flee their
country. This book is a beautiful meditation on absence, displacement, family,
and the meaning of home, that’s accessible to both adults and younger readers.
A big book starring tiny birds, Big Questions is a fable that examines the existential quandaries in which we all find ourselves mired: why do we suffer? How do we deal with the unexpected and unexplainable? What happens when we die? Are our lives meaningless, or is there some kind of plan? Despite its length and heavy themes, the book moves along quickly, with its meandering philosophizing grounded in a plot that twists and curves in surprising, sometimes surreal, ways. Nilsen's art style is simple and organic, with a light and patient hand. As his cartoony gray finches ponder deep philosophical questions, the story and art toe the line between wryly humorous and strikingly evocative.
-Tell me a funny story.
-I don't know any funny stories.
-Sure you do. You had everyone in stitches the other day at the pine tree by the river.
-You mean that thing about the red bobcat? That wasn't a story. That really happened to me.
-That's not funny then.
-Yeah, I didn't think so either.
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