Category Archives: Graphic Memoirs

Book Review: The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop

The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop Title: The Isobel Journal
Author: Isobel Harrop
Publisher: Hot Key Books
ISBN: 978-1471402272
Genre: Graphic Novel, Teens
Pages: 208
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 5/5

“The Isobel Journal” by Isobel Harrop is the real journal of a real girl. She is eighteen and on the brink of life and everything else in between. The journal is disjointed, in parts and pieces and speaks of everything she goes through – well some of it for sure. It is an illustrated scrap book so to say. It is a slice of her life and all that she wants to be and do and who she really is.

It is almost a love letter to other teen girls about life, loving, living, animals, parents and everything else in between, which makes this book even more unique and different. The book is full of illustrations and might I add, life. She does not get preachy, nor is she annoying. She is just how most eighteen year olds are and yet has a personality of her own. There was no writing to begin with as such, and yet the illustrations spoke volumes.

Isobel Harrop sketches and talks of her life, the way it evolves – in fragments and in coherent pictures. The Isobel Journal is both – heart-warming and sad. It is wistful and thought provoking about a teenager’s life who will not be a teenager soon enough. It is honest and right there, waiting to be devoured by readers, even though it is mostly full of illustrations and yet resonates and reminds you of when you were eighteen and full of life, or perhaps not.

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Book Review: Tangles – A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me by Sarah Leavitt

Tangles - A Story about Alzheimer's, my mother and me by Sarah Leavitt Title: Tangles – A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me
Author: Sarah Leavitt
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0-224-09422-1
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir
Pages: 132
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have often wondered while reading memoirs or something very personal: How do the authors manage to put all this down to paper? All the hurt, the anguish, the memory of it all, on paper for others to read. I do not know how they must feel to put it down – to go through those memories all over again, so they can tell it to the world. I am sure though it must not be easy to do that. This thought crossed my mind as I finished reading, “Tangles – A Story about Alzheimer’s, my mother and me” by Sarah Leavitt, a story of her mother’s illness and her love for her, and that is in a graphic novel format.

I had wanted to read this book since a while now, however something else kept coming in the way, pushing this one on the back burner. And when I finally did, it reminded me of someone who I had known with the disease and all the memories came rushing by. Anyway, back to the book. “Tangles” is one woman’s story about losing a parent and at the same time strangely enough, also finding a parent through Alzheimer’s. The content and context is heavy and may be that is when the book being in a graphic novel format helps.

“Tangles” is the story of Sarah and her mother and Sarah seeing her through Alzheimer’s. It covers six years of her mother’s life with the onset of the disease through her death and the emotional turmoil Sarah and her family goes through. For me it was about the disease and what it does to you as a person – at the same time what it takes from you. Fragments of memory are snatched slowly and steadily till it reaches a stage when you struggle to remember your loved ones. Sarah writes about it with a touch that makes you want to reach out to the author. The novel covers everything – the dark humour, the spark, the burst of energy and frustration, the reaction of the family, the last moments and the very angry moments as well.

To reflect on a disease through a graphic novel format is not unusual. A lot of writers have done it before. So it is only common if you tend to compare it with Fun House by Alison Bechdel or with Charles Burns’ Black Hole. The quality of illustrations is on the spot, making it seem real enough, which for me was very important while reading the book. The connect of the reader will but obviously be very high, given the nature of the book and yet at times the reader will forget that it is a memoir and Sarah’s mother went through it all. “Tangles” at the same time celebrates life – for what it is, for what it was and how it will be. The story is honest. It is raw. It is also quite tender. A story of a mother, her disease and her daughter.

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Book Review: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle

Title: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Author: Guy Delisle
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224096690
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Graphic novels always make it easier for a story to tell what it has to. They have the sense of making the reader understand what it wants to without putting in too much effort. Maybe that is why I understand politics best through a comic strip. That works for me on more than one level.

“Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City” by Guy Delisle is one such book. Before reading the book, I was aware to some extent about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but things became clearer, but obviously after the read.

Guy Delisle presents the conflict in a manner that I think a non-fiction account wouldn’t have been able to. This is not a typical travelogue either (though it is his account of travel to Jerusalem). The book is about Delisle’s wife, Nadege who works with the organization Doctors without Borders and she is transferred to Jerusalem for a year with Guy and their two children to help provide medical care in Israel. The book is a collection of the author’s observations of the city on a day-to-day living basis.

The narrative switches from bigger events to the daily living of the author and his family, which works very well with this kind of graphic format. There are no sides that Guy takes in the book. He just presents his observations – the keen eye for details – from Israel’s assault on Gaza to the Arab-Israelis issue. The book surprisingly is not controversial at all. As I said, Guy leaves the judgment and decision-making to the readers. He does not do it for them.

The reader gets to understand and notice just how bizarre Jerusalem is. The city is divided into different quarters – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, each with their own rules and regulations. The military presence cannot be ignored. The check points are now a part of the citizens’ lives. The region is troubled and Guy infuses life and sometimes humour through his drawings and writing which is much needed for a book of this magnitude. A great read for all those who want to know more about this region and to a certain extent about its history.

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Top 5 Graphic Memoirs

Comic books have become the brand new vehicle for autobiographies to be written. Readers also find it very easy to connect with them in the form of pictures and words, than just words. I have read them over the past couple of years and enjoyed this method of communication. Autobiographies can be quite heavy to read, so I guess this format works best, when you also want to lighten things and the writing.

So here are my top 5 comic autobiographies, so to say:

Maus by Art Spiegelman: Maus is the biography of Art’s father, Vladek and an autobiography of Art’s relationship with him. It is a book about his father’s account as a prisoner in Auschwitz during WWII. The book is beautifully designed and the graphics are brilliantly portrayed with the Nazis depicted as Cats and the Jews as Mice. Hence the title, Maus. Maus is a chilling and thought-provoking read. Something that will not leave you days after you have finished the book.

Maus is a two-part book. The complete edition can be purchased from HomeShop18 here

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: We have all watched the movie (most of us) and the so-called graphic novel is to die for. You should not go through life without reading this graphic memoir of identity, race, and one’s roots. The first volume of her autobiography is about when the Shah of Iran was deposed and the revolution was delivered, liberation at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, with severe implications for the normal folk. The second volume is of her return and the country from her point of view. Brilliantly told in sparse and simple black and white drawings, this one will sure get a lump in your throat.

You can purchase The Complete Persepolis on HomeShop18 here

Palestine by Joe Sacco: I remember reading Palestine for the first time and being blown by it in so many ways – this was probably the first one of its kind book. Journalism and reporting had found a new voice – Graphic Representation. Joe Sacco has managed to portray the lives of the Palestinians in the most amazing way with graphics, through interviews and laced with facts. The sense of place and feeling is surreally portrayed throughout the book. A book that you must not miss out on.

You can buy Palestine on HomeShop18 here

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel: This is everything a biography could be in the form of a Graphic Novel. A daughter getting to know her gay father better after his death. At the same time, she is trying to deal with her sexuality issues and all of this is taking place in rural Pennsylvania. The book is about her fraught relationship with her father, as she discovers herself in the process. A read that maybe is not for all, but a great one nonetheless.

You can buy the book from HomeShop18 here

Stitches by David Small: Stitches is bold, brazen, and heartbreaking. It is about Small’s growing up years where his household was ever tense and people spoke in another language: that of breaking stuff and banging doors. It also tells the story of David, who wakes up one morning from a supposedly harmless operation to find out that he, is virtually mute. His parents did not inform him about his vocal cord being removed and the implications – emotional and artistic on his growing-up years. This book stayed with me for a very long time. I could not forget the stark and raw visuals. Read it if you can stomach the truth.

Stitches by David Small can be bought from HomeShop18 here

So these are my top 5 graphic memoirs. A brilliant place sometimes to start reading graphic novels.