In 1975, Bunjevac’s mother, Sally, flees to her birthplace of Yugoslavia with toddler Nina and Nina’s older sister, Sarah, in order to escape her abusIn 1975, Bunjevac’s mother, Sally, flees to her birthplace of Yugoslavia with toddler Nina and Nina’s older sister, Sarah, in order to escape her abusive marriage. Her husband, Peter, assumes that demanding Sally leave their eldest child, Petey, behind with him will force Bunjevac’s mother to return with the girls, but Nina ends up staying in Yugoslavia until her father and two of his friends accidentally blow themselves up. Only then does Nina learn that her mother took her daughters and ran because Nina’s father, a Serbian nationalist who had been forced to leave Yugoslavia in the 1950s, had become involved in a terrorist organization determined to overthrow the Communist Yugoslav government.
I cannot proclaim enough how much I loved, loved, loved the way Bunjevac allows this important revelation to inform the structure of her memoir. The book begins with a visit from her elderly mother long after she and Nina have returned to Canada before delving into the events of Nina’s childhood and the move to Yugoslavia, which are presented as a child would view them: her mother is that crazy lady who shoves a large dresser in front of the window every night as she tucks her children in bed; her father is the gruff man who often yells at his wife and children; and her grandparents are the keepers of knowledge who hush when she enters into a room.
The arrival of a telegram announcing her father’s death shifts the story to the past allowing Nina to learn more about her father’s history in Yugoslavia including his marriage to Nina’s mother and, later, his emigration to Canada where became involved in a terrorist organization dedicated to the Serbian nationalist cause.
Then, the panels with scenes of Nina’s childhood are repeated with the knowledge only an adult who knows the kind of person her father was can have: the dresser her mother moved every night was to prevent someone from throwing a Molotov cocktail into her home in retaliation for her husband’s actions. I’m afraid I’m not explaining this correctly but it was so very clever, even if it did mean the story ended rather abruptly.
The one drawback to this memoir is its presumption of a certain amount of knowledge on the part of the reader. While I have read about and studied the Bosnian Genocide in the former Yugoslavia in the past, even I found myself wishing Bunjevac had done a better job meshing her personal, micro-level story with the larger conflict.
Her explanation that her father joined a Serbian terrorist organization because he hated the Communist Yugoslavic government seemed very simplistic given what I do know of ethnic tensions in the region. Maybe a few more pages dedicated to the history of the region and the lasting influence of the ruler, Tito, would have helped fleshed things out?
Still, well-worth a read in order to experience the clever way Bunjevac reassess her own experiences with new knowledge. And the recent publication date for this graphic memoir leads me to hope there is a chance for a follow-up....more
I’m beginning to notice a pattern in sequels to Austen’s classic novel: Elizabeth experiences a tragedy during pregnancy, one of the Bennet sisters maI’m beginning to notice a pattern in sequels to Austen’s classic novel: Elizabeth experiences a tragedy during pregnancy, one of the Bennet sisters marries, Georgiana falls in love, Lydia arrives unannounced at a family function, Catherine de Bourgh will criticize Elizabeth, and Wickham hatches a plan to extract revenge upon Darcy that usually involves placing Elizabeth in mortal danger.
And Lathan’s book nearly follows this pattern to a T with Elizabeth experiencing postpartum depression following the premature birth of her and Darcy’s second child, Kitty preparing to marry an older man in the army named Artois, Lydia arriving at Netherfield to crash Kitty’s wedding, Lady de Bourgh criticizing the way Elizabeth raises her children, and Wickham hatching a plan to kidnap and, possibly, murder Elizabeth and her eldest son.
This book is the fifth in Lathan’s series so I started at the end rather than the beginning, which explains why so many of the characters felt unfamiliar to me. Darcy suddenly has multiple aunts and uncles previously unintroduced in Austen’s novel and one of the uncles, a doctor by the name of George Darcy, features heavily in the story as he explains postpartum depression to Darcy – a very modern diagnosis and understanding of psychology – and administers to both Elizabeth and young Alexander following their ordeal.
Unfortunately, these new characters were introduced to the detriment of Darcy and Elizabeth’s friendships with Bingley and Jane. The two couples felt more like reluctant relations than close friends, and I felt rather sad at the suggestion that the foursome would lose their friendship after years of marriage.
Seeing how loving and affection Darcy was with his children did lift my spirits, although I felt some aspects of his relationship with Elizabeth in this book did not ring true. I mean, yes, they have sex at nearly every turn (a common plotline in Pride and Prejudice sequels), but their interactions lacked the witty banter I normally associate with these two.
Darcy is overwrought in the presence of his uncle at one point because he assumes his wife no longer loves him, which felt callous given Elizabeth’s concern their premature baby might not live and seemed like an unusual display of emotion for someone like Darcy. This is the fifth book in the series and, inevitably, the characters will change as a result of the events in the previous four books so Lathan deserves some leeway, but this book just reiterated to me that I need to move on from reading sequels to Austen’s books. Especially after it fell into the trap of making Wickham into a unbelievable villain.
One final thing: the timeline of this book was not always clear. The book opens with an introduction to Elizabeth, Darcy, and their two little boys, Alexander and Michael, only to jump back to the months Darcy and Elizabeth spent exploring the Continent during Elizabeth’s second pregnancy. I had to reread these sections twice to nail down the timeline and very likely would have given up had the book not been the only one I had on hand during jury duty....more
A cartoonist for a newspaper geared towards children in Iran, Neyestani drew a cartoon featuring a cockroach speaking an Azeri word – which is used toA cartoonist for a newspaper geared towards children in Iran, Neyestani drew a cartoon featuring a cockroach speaking an Azeri word – which is used to mean “what?” in Iranian Persian – in 2006 and ended up in one of Iran’s notorious secret jails. Such a sentence seems surprisingly harsh, but the Iranian government charged Neyestani with working against the state after the Azerbaijani minority rioted over the image and needed to demonstrate they are doing something to appease the concerns of the minority group.
While Neyestani escapes the horrendous torture associated with Iran’s prison system (which he rather tongue-in-cheek admits would have made for a more interesting story), he is detained indefinitely and temporary placed in solitary confinement. The lawyer hired to represent him by the newspaper is both unwilling to go up against the Iranian judicial system (if you can call it that) and subservient to the newspaper owner’s interest – utterly prepared to use Neyestani as a scapegoat to save their own hides.
Unexpectedly and temporarily released, Neyestani and his wife made plans to flee from Iran hoping they would be granted asylum on freedom of the press grounds by a European embassy or a country in North America. Yet each embassy rejected their application citing a lack of publicity around Neyestani’s case and, fearing a return to Iran would mean certain jail time or death at the hands of the Azerbaijani minority, Neyestani and his wife hired a smuggler to move them through Dubai, Turkey, Malaysia and China to freedom in France throwing them both into the uncertain and treacherous life of illegal migrants.
The story ultimately presented in this graphic memoir was not at all the one I expected when I selected the book off the shelf, but I found the story of illegal migration to be particularly poignant given recent events. If there is anyone you would expect to qualify for asylum, it would be Neyestani and yet doors – both legal and illegal – were repeatedly closed to him and his wife.
Neyestani’s hostility towards himself because of the role his seemingly innocent art played in their displacement was well-captured in how often he tries to squash the cockroach. But he does not devote very many panels to how life in asylum limbo affected his relationship with his wife, Mansoureh, which I thought was a rather odd choice. Whether this was because he wanted to protect her privacy or because he felt the memoir should focus solely on him, I cannot say. But for someone who is presented as taking an active role in their escape, she does appear very much so as a secondary or even tertiary character.
However, I did particularly like how he presented the idiocy of the Iranian prison system, which transferred him and a coworker under false names and stories out of the worst of the prison’s divisions to prevent them from being targeted by Azerbaijanis in jail. Forgetting – by choice or by stupidity – how the courtyard of the minimum security division looks right at the entrance to the other division so everyone already knew who they were. And, overall, the memoir offers a window into a world really only referenced rather than explored by the news media.
The comics, themselves, are black and white drawings in nature without very many hidden stories within each panel other than the cockroach occasionally lurking in the background. It reminded me a bit of Zeina Abirached and Marjane Satrapi’s style so now I’m wondering if this a common style for cartoonists from this region of the world....more
Like many who read solely in English, the announcement that Modiano won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature left me a bit confounded. I have never heaLike many who read solely in English, the announcement that Modiano won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature left me a bit confounded. I have never heard of the author and never, to my recollection, seen a review for his work on one of the many book blogs I religiously read.
Journalists and bloggers alike blamed the lack of awareness for his work in English-speaking markets on the lack of translators employed by the publishing industry and the apathy on the part of American readers, in particular, towards translated works. (Assertions that could be addressed in a separate post with a lively discussion, I’m sure.)
Only twelve of Modiano’s works have been translated into English, and this collection of three short novellas is one of only three books written by him available at my public library in English. (The foreign language section has nineteen in French and twelve in Italian, surprisingly.) I am hoping more will follow now that he has won the Nobel given that I stayed up into the wee hours of the night reading this collection, which includes “Afterimages”, “Suspended Sentences”, and “Flowers of Ruin”.
In “Afterimages”, the narrator recounts his time in Paris working as a pseudo-archivist for a mysterious photographer who goes by the name of Jensen and has tasked himself with the job of photographing a city in flux. In “Suspended Sentences”, the narrator recalls his life as a young boy raised by a group of women – particularly a young nanny renamed Snow White – while his mother tours as an actress and the stigma attached to such a situation by his teachers and the principal of his private school. Finally, in “Flowers of Ruin”, the narrator returns to the site of a mysterious double suicide trigging memories from his childhood and igniting a desire, primarily on the part of the reader, to solve the crime.
As I read this collection, I kept flipping to spine of this book to view the call number attached by the library in order to assure myself that this collection is, in fact, fiction. Modiano, whose body of work includes both fiction and nonfiction titles, writes in such a manner that I was never entirely sure where this book lies on that particular divide.
Each story features an unnamed, male narrator possessing the same voice as the previous story; each story concerns itself with how uncertain our memories can be. And as I moved from story to story, I felt as though the narrator was shedding his skin or donning a costume and asking me to decide on which version of his life is true. Which is probably why I stayed up so late reading this and why I’m thankful these three previously published novellas were compiled into a single volume. (If I had to rank the novellas, I would say their order of publication matches my ranking in terms of enjoyment.)
The Nazi occupation of France is more of a central theme in “Afterimages”, but the event is mentioned at least in passing in all three novellas and clearly influences Modiano’s understanding of memory and recollection. These stories and the vision of Paris they present are haunted by this looming, dark ghost, and I was very pleased to find the writing style I saw heavily praised by the Nobel committee is sustained in translation....more
Mr. Lockwood is rather peeved when his wife volunteers him to handle the papers of the newly deceased Mr. Hunter, who died unexpectedly leaving behindMr. Lockwood is rather peeved when his wife volunteers him to handle the papers of the newly deceased Mr. Hunter, who died unexpectedly leaving behind three children and wife incapable of balancing a checkbook let alone her husband’s affairs. And he is even further peeved to find that Mr. Hunter recently purchased a paddock abutting Lockwood’s property he had spent years trying to acquire with the three hundred pounds he lent to Mr. Hunter earlier in the year.
Realizing Mr. Hunter never retrieved the note of promise to repay him having died so soon after paying off his debt, Mr. Lockwood informs Mrs. Hunter that he will take ownership of the paddock in exchange for forgiving the loan reducing the value of the Hunters’ home and, therefore, the newly widowed Mrs. Hunter’s circumstances. The solicitor invests her remaining money in a poorly performing investment scheme and, over the years, forces her fatherless children out of school and into jobs they hate in order to support their mother.
After years of feeling degraded by the Lockwoods and watching her siblings suffer in their jobs as governess and bank teller, Thea has built up a great deal of animosity towards her former neighbors. She still considers herself to be above the residents of her new community, especially the new boy next door who becomes enamored with her, Oliver Reade.
She is disappointed that her opportunity to serve as an au pair (used in this novel to mean English teacher) in exchange for French lessons at a provincial, female boarding school in France is tied to the Lockwood girls and their friend attending the same school as paying students. Her one privilege as a teacher – unaccompanied visits into the local village – lands her in trouble with the headmistress of the school and a ticket back to England.
Upon her return, Mrs. Lockwood visits expecting Thea and her mother to apologize for taking advantage of the Lockwoods’ benevolence but Thea refuses to apologize or allow her mother to do so on her behalf. Cast out of the Lockwoods’ good graces and spurned by much of the community, Thea eventually learns the truth about Mr. Lockwood’s deceit and, working with Oliver, becomes hell bent upon revenge.
It’s been over a week since I finished Whipple’s 1949 novel and I’m still not entirely sure what I think of it. On the one hand, I loved how this book ended up being nothing like what I expected it to be. The summary I read only covers a quarter of what I summarized above, and I enjoyed how the book followed Mr. Lockwood’s crime from beginning to end. Obviously, robbing someone of land and, therefore, money would impact their lives in the long run, but I think most people would begin their novel at the end and use a flashback or a reference to past events to explain the present.
Yet Whipple deciding to cover so many years allows Thea’s animosity and determination to enact revenge to build, to shape her as a character before the reader’s eyes. I had more sympathy for her (and, surprisingly, for the seemingly evil Mr. Lockwood) than I probably would have had I been plopped into the middle of the story where she begins her mistreatment of Oliver. Her experience with the Lockwoods would have felt more like an excuse than an explanation.
And as she did in Someone at a Distance, Whipple devotes a portion of her novel to exploring the differences between post-war England and provincial France. In England, members of the community do not bat an eye at young women and men associated alone with one another. Neither Thea’s siblings nor her mother seem phased by Oliver’s attempts to speak to Thea alone and rather aggressively convince her to date him. In France, young ladies are kept wholly separate from young men. (Although I’m not entirely convinced by Whipple and Thea’s assertions that the English would be nonplussed to find a young man alone in the woods lying next to a young woman with her hair down.)
So where do my mixed feelings come from? It is well-written, of course, and maybe my expectations were too high, but I didn’t find this novel nearly as charming as the only other Whipple I have read. The novel turns very dark in the final few pages yet the ending was rather banal and I’m not sure the book will become one of those standout reads I’m always recommending to others as a result. Only (more) time will tell, I guess....more
As the only member of his family born in the United States, Tran grew up largely indifferent to the experience of his immigrant family in Vietnam andAs the only member of his family born in the United States, Tran grew up largely indifferent to the experience of his immigrant family in Vietnam and how they came to the United States following the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Tran decides to return to Vietnam in April 2008 with his parents after much prodding on the part of the his mother and a decisive edict from his stereotypically stern and distant father, and this comic documents the experiences of his parents, grandparents, and uncle during decades of colonial rule and civil war.
While it is not always easy to keep the names of each family member straight (Tran includes a great drawing of this problem), their stories touch on multiple aspects of Vietnamese history and document how war can tear a family apart over multiple generations: Tran’s paternal grandfather joined the Viet Cong in the northern portion of the country because he believed in their communist cause and loathed French colonial rule, his father’s first wife was a white, French national who abandoned her two children and husband when the French pulled out of the country; his maternal uncle was conscripted by the south Vietnam army at the behest of the American forces despite still being a teenager; and his paternal grandmother had an affair with a French solider in order to provide food and shelter for her children.
One of the things this book has going for it is both the reader and the author are in the unknown, both are exploring Tran’s family history and the larger history of Vietnam together for the first time. The intrigue and the wonderment are shared emotions, and there were multiple times where I, too, wanted to yell at Tran’s parents to stop being so evasive with explaining their life stories.
Yet, in some ways, this fact works against the narrative because Tran does not always provide a solid timeline for the events detailed in his book. One story will trigger a memory or a recollection and suddenly the narrative is thrown forward or backwards in time in order to cover that event.
As such, the book is not a great primer into the history of Vietnam – I have a general idea of who the major players on (the French, the Americans, the Viet Cong) but not a good understanding of their ideology or role in the conflict. Perhaps this is too much of a demand to place upon a family history, but I felt like the larger picture was often needed to explain the smaller one the reader is offered.
It took me nearly three weeks to read this book, which is usually long for me when it comes to comics and graphic novels. Part of the delay was due to the type of fonts Tran uses. Each character is assigned a particular font, although sometimes it appears they switch or share them, and the cursive font he uses for himself was incredibly difficult to read. But the delay was also due to the fact that Tran inserts so many hidden images into his drawings that you cannot take a single panel at face value.
In one of the panels, Tran details how trying to “be American” ran smack up against his parents attempt to start over in America while retaining aspects of their own culture and shared history. As a poor immigrant, Tran’s mother purchases clothing for her family at a thrift shop and neither she nor her teenaged stepson are aware that the Minnie Mouse t-shirt she purchased is perceived by his classmates as being for girls only. This is just one smaller story I could have easily missed if I flipped through the book at my usual pace.
The book might have worked better for me had it been more clearly arranged, included more background information or, at the very least, dropped the awful cursive font, but I’m still glad I picked it up off the library shelf. Tran’s comics exposed me to a region of the world and a portion of history I know very little about, and I enjoyed the opportunity to linger over a particular panel and marvel over how perfectly Tran managed to capture such a dramatic moment through his use of color, shadows, and imagery....more