This is one of those ratings that I fully admit may not be equally applicable to everyone picking up this book. Yes, it's very, very good, but what ma...moreThis is one of those ratings that I fully admit may not be equally applicable to everyone picking up this book. Yes, it's very, very good, but what makes it a five star for me may not hold true for everyone else. But oh. For me? For me, this is the book I never knew I wanted to read until I held it in my hands, and once I did, I couldn't imagine not having read it before, much less not known about it before.
It's a graphic novel (check) slash travel journal (check) that's as much about a mental journey as a physical one (check) through France (check), Morocco (check), and Spain (check) among others, with a particular emphasis on what it's like to travel alone (check), the glories and the mundanities of being an American in Europe and North Africa (check), the amazing food (check), and cats (check). Seriously. This feels like a story I could have written, if, you know, I were a dude with artistic talent and a heartrending love back home.
I love this book because it rings so very true for me from some of the very similar adventures I have had. I love this book because it is the graphic art equivalent of so much that I've tried to do with the written journals and photography I've done during my travel. I love this book because of how much better (and shorter) it says things I've tried to capture for myself. I love this book for the sense of "I've been there! I've done that! So true! Sotruesotruesotrue!" it gives me.
It's raw and it's personal and it's not perfect, and even though it was composed (drawn? written? both?) knowing that there would be an audience in mind, it still feels a bit like rereading my own journals from Brussels, from Marrakesh, from Granada, from Dijon all those years ago.
And did I mention the food? The lovingly detailed drawings and descriptions of the food? Because yes. (less)
It's a brick of a graphic novel, but I read it in one sitting. Well, one sitting-on-the-stool-drifting-to-the-couch-back-to-the-stool-can't-put-it-dow...moreIt's a brick of a graphic novel, but I read it in one sitting. Well, one sitting-on-the-stool-drifting-to-the-couch-back-to-the-stool-can't-put-it-down-while-I-get-a-drink-from-the-fridge-holy-crap-I-read-the-whole-thing. I'm not usually one to pick up a heartfelt coming-of-age first-love story, especially when set in the frame of a fundamentalist Christian environment, but I loved Thompson's Carnet de Voyage enough that I was willing to give this one a go. It is a miracle of the graphic novel that things I often find grating and uncomfortable in prose regained a bit of magic with the combination of pictures and words. The A-plot, the melody, the bit that probably drew most people in were what I sat through for the grace notes, the curlicues around the edges, the side-stories.
This book worked for me for two reasons: 1) Thompson's attention to the small mundanities, especially when they're a little bit dirty, that make me giggle even as they ring embarrasingly true (c.f. the bit with the bunny in Carnet de Voyage talking about the euphemistically kind 'traveler's stomach': 'it sounds like I'm peeing but it's coming from my butt!', or in this book, where the two brothers forced to share a bed as kids end up in a pee war - and when did this review become all about pee?) and 2) my unexpected identification with the protagonist's struggle to fit in/not fit in with his uber-religious surroundings. My family was not religious like the protagonist's, not at all, nor were they emotionally manipulative/abusive like in this book, but the neighborhood, the all-pervasiveness of a certain brand of Christianity rang discomfitingly true. It made me feel awkward and awful and outsidery all over again, if grateful that I didn't have to fight against myself like the protagonist did, too.
The whole magic-of-a-first-love bit probably plays a lot better to an audience who had that kind of teenage magic love. I found it as awkward and earnest and uncomfortable and wistful as it was watching people have those first loves in high school. So, you know, success, but it did kind of make me want to retreat back into the arms of science fiction and fantasy novels, just like high school.
But really - Thompson's attention to the little details, both in words and in drawings, is kind of magical. (less)
This. This. This is what graphic novels are for. Augh. I want to read more stuff like this immediately.
A hashish dealer, a wannabe revolutionary jour...moreThis. This. This is what graphic novels are for. Augh. I want to read more stuff like this immediately.
A hashish dealer, a wannabe revolutionary journalist, an Israeli soldier, a wannabe suicide bomber, and a wannabe something/anything from the O.C. get drawn into a conflict between a gangster and a djinn in, you guessed it, Cairo. There's interesting, nuanced things said about politics, about religion, about history, about class, about gender (sorta), about, well, everything you think should probably be talked about when you've got a dealer, a journalist, a soldier, an extremist, and a college girl running through the streets of Cairo and the Undernile. Oh, and then there are some gunfights and some mystical battles and evil and good and, really, the djinn is totally badass. The one problem is that this is not a very long book, so even though there's nuance, that nuance can only be briefly touched upon and still get everyone to the gunfight on time.
Also - there isn't a single. white. male. in a speaking role in the entire. thing. Dude. (less)