Category Archives: Graphic Memoirs

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi Title: The Complete Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Random House USA
ISBN: 9780375714832
Genre: Graphic Novel, Biographies and Autobiographies
Pages: 341
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I always thought graphic novels were an easy read. At least, in my experience they always have been. Till I reread “The Complete Persepolis” and realized that it could get tough, rereading a graphic novel as well. “Persepolis” is a story which has so many layers to it.

“The Complete Persepolis” is the combination of two books – The story of a Childhood and the story of a Return. The story is of Marjane Satrapi (the author), growing up in war-torn Iran, from the Shah’s regime to the Ayatollah’s Iran, and finally living her life in Austria, till she returns home – only to see that things have only become worse.

The title of the book is taken from ancient Persia’s capital. “Persepolis” is autobiographical and hits the spot very hard. While it speaks of cultures and war and fundamentalism to a very large extent, it also draws on the concepts of alienation and the need to be home. I think this reread was in many ways most important for me, as I am away from home, so the connect was very strong. Perhaps not the same, given that I have not seen wars. But, nonetheless, one can empathize with Marjane and her family and her mental and emotional state.

The book doesn’t seek validation. Neither does it seek sympathy or empathy. It is just an honest account of life and how it goes through various stages and how sometimes in times of adversity, there is only humour and hope to live by. Marjane characterizes herself as an outsider, throughout the book. As a young girl, when her parents are revolting against the system to when she is an adult living in a different land, and when she is back in Iran to when she leaves for France for good.

The Islamic revolution in Iran is depicted truthfully through the black and white illustrations. My heart went out when people were executed for no fault and to think that people lived through all of that is something which you and I cannot even begin to imagine. The illustrations are stark and true, without any fluff or sugar-coating. “Persepolis” is a gem of a graphic novel – the kind that you do not forget at all and also the kind that you keep going back to time after time. Also, do watch the movie if you have not already. It is simply super.

Here is the trailer:

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Book Review: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert

The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert Title: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders
Authors: Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre, Frederic Lemercier
Publisher: First Second Books
ISBN: 978-1596433755
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoirs
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always been a fan of Graphic novels. From the time I started figuring them out or rather discovering them. It was with Sandman I think and what a place to begin. At that time, I used to think that graphic novels only felt good when narrating a fictitious tale. I was so wrong and so mistaken. Over the last couple of years, I have read some brilliant non-fiction graphic novels – from Joe Sacco’s Palestine to Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle, these guys know how to wrench your heart through the form of drawings and words in blurbs.

The Photographer - Image 1

This is what intrigued me about the first book in the “A Year of Reading the World” challenge which I have undertaken (inspired from the blog of the same name, started by Ann Morgan) – and the country to start with was Afghanistan. I did not want to start with the usual Khaled Hosseini (I love the guy’s writing but I wanted to discover something new). I had already read, “The Patience Stone” by Atiq Rahimi and loved it and yet I wanted something new. I then saw a title which intrigued me and that was “The Photographer” by Emmanuel Guibert.

Now let me tell you something about the book. This is not your regular graphic novel. It is definitely more and in the way that a reader would love to explore more books of this nature (if they exist). The book is a graphic novel mixed with pictures as taken by the said photographer in the title – Didier Lefevre.

The Photographer - Image 2

Didier left Paris at the end of July 1986 to go to Afghanistan. It was his first project as a photojournalist, documenting the journey of Doctors without Borders into war-torn Afghanistan. That was the time; the Soviets were fighting the Afghan Mujahedeen. This was the time the US of A was supporting Afghanistan, unaware of how it would backfire years later. The book though is not about that. The book is about the war and help and moments of respite as seen through Lefevre’s lens.

“The Photographer” is all about the perception and unbiased (mostly) perspective of a man with a camera and the need to capture it all. The book is created and compiled by Guibert along with Didier’s photographs. The war-torn Afghanistan as seen by Didier makes a perfect setting alongside its history. The people, the places, and their stories are beautifully captured and Guibert does justice to every single word and illustration – to go with the photograph. This book is a great beginning to how it all started – to how a country was ravaged, torn and how some selfless doctors also tried to save it. Most of all, it is about a photographer and how is life changed completely.

Next Up in this Challenge: Albania: The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare

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Book Review: Lighter than my Shadow by Katie Green

Lighter than my Shadow by Katie Green Title: Lighter than my Shadow
Author: Katie Green
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9780224090988
Genre: Memoirs, Graphic Novel
Pages: 528
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I finished reading this book yesterday and could not sleep for a while. I kept thinking about the book and the protagonist, the author, Katie Green and her eating disorder and her life and how she made her peace with her condition. The book is also a lot more than just that. It is about the choices we make in life; it is about what makes us and what does not, the mistakes we make and ultimately also about forgiving ourselves in the larger scheme of things.

I do not know how or when an eating disorder happens, but after reading the book, I could empathize a lot with the author’s condition. I emotionally eat a lot. I eat when I am upset. I eat when I am sad and then there have also been times, when I have wanted to throw up everything I ate, because I did not feel good about myself. I could also see Katie going through the same as she chronicles that side of her life in “Lighter than my Shadow”.

Sample 1

All I can say is that it takes a lot of courage to bare your story. To talk about what you felt and how you felt – to speak of your friends’ reaction, your family and their support, the emotional scars and how one tries so hard to do what one wants to. The need to be accepted and the need to remain stable are depicted beautifully through Katie’s illustrations. The sense of madness and how knowing that life is falling apart and needs to be mended is the strongest tone and voice of the book.

Sample 2

Most of the conditions come from our own society. I guess we place a lot of value on how one should look and what should the parameters me. I see a lot of young ones – teens mostly who are constantly worried about how much they eat and the next waist size they will reach to. The book is probably perfect for that audience – only because in a way it is about a life and what we learn as we go along.

Sample 3

Katie Green infuses life and tells her story the way it is meant to be – with great emotion and sensitivity. She distances herself and watches her story unfold and give it to the reader, the way it is – honestly and makes one belief that there is hope for all of us after all.

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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.

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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