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Year of the Rabbit

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One family’s quest to survive the devastation of the Khmer Rouge

Year of the Rabbit tells the true story of one family’s desperate struggle to survive the murderous reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized power in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Immediately after declaring victory in the war, they set about evacuating the country’s major cities with the brutal ruthlessness and disregard for humanity that characterized the regime ultimately responsible for the deaths of one million citizens.

Cartoonist Tian Veasna was born just three days after the Khmer Rouge takeover, as his family set forth on the chaotic mass exodus from Phnom Penh. Year of the Rabbit is based on firsthand accounts, all told from the perspective of his parents and other close relatives. Stripped of any money or material possessions, Veasna’s family found themselves exiled to the barren countryside along with thousands of others, where food was scarce and brutal violence a constant threat.

Year of the Rabbit shows the reality of life in the work camps, where Veasna’s family bartered for goods, where children were instructed to spy on their parents, and where reading was proof positive of being a class traitor. Constantly on the edge of annihilation, they realized there was only one choice—they had to escape Cambodia and become refugees. Veasna has created a harrowing, deeply personal account of one of the twentieth century’s greatest tragedies.

380 pages, Paperback

First published January 21, 2020

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About the author

Tian Veasna

1 book7 followers
Tian Veasna was born in Cambodia in 1975, three days after the Khmer Rouge came to power. He moved to France with his parents in 1980, where he graduated from Strasbourg’s École des Arts Décoratifs in 2001. After that he returned to Cambodia for the first time, offering drawing classes as part of a United Nations humanitarian project. Since then Veasna has worked in publishing, taught visual art, and cofounded the workshop and gallery space Le Bocal, which specializes in illustration and graphic art. Veasna’s desire to recount what his family lived through in 1975 led him to return to Cambodia frequently and record the memories of his family members. Those stories became Year of the Rabbit, his first book. Veasna lives in France.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 167 reviews
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
March 23, 2020
Cartoonist Tian Veasna was born in Cambodia just three days after the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975, as his family set forth on the chaotic mass exodus from Phnom Penh. They got out, and now, decades later, Veasna took the opportunity to interview his parents and other family members who survived the genocide—around a quarter of its population mainly slaughtered by the deranged tyrant Pol Pot and his equally deranged army—and created an intimate and important comics portrait of the atrocities that took place from 1975-79, memorialized in the film The Killing Fields, which I only needed to see once, forever ingrained in my memory. True horror. Madness. Veasna makes his family and their experiences real for us, who may not have known much about what went on there.

I was reminded of other immigrant/refugee stories as I read, but maybe particularly Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust survival story, Maus. Like Spiegelman’s parents, Veasna's family faced unbelievable odds, got lucky and were resourceful in equal measure in making their escape, as many around them were just randomly killed, sometimes by the many child soldiers. It’s a pretty straightforward, but still inspirational story, beautifully rendered, more than 370 pages. Who knows or recalls now about the Khmer Rouge anymore? Who even knows about the Khmer Rouge, anymore? But we have to know these stories or we are bound to repeat them, especially in chaotic times where people in power may be tempted to extremism. We have to see the many refugees on the planet now requiring political asylum as human beings needing our empathy and support.
Profile Image for Rod Brown.
5,128 reviews171 followers
February 13, 2020
Most of my knowledge of the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge comes from dry textbooks read long ago and The Killing Fields, one of those 1980s movies that felt obliged to shove a white character into the middle of another people's story. I'm most grateful for the chance to refresh myself on the tragic events that killed millions of people -- around one quarter of the country's population -- by execution, torture, disease and famine during the years 1975-79. And I was moved by the courage, luck and persistence that allowed the author's parents to keep themselves and their infant son alive during all the turmoil.

A couple quibbles: The extended cast was a bit difficult to keep track of (I made frequent use of the family tree in the front), and some information given in the middle of the book would have been more useful near the front. I recommend reading a brief overview of the larger events at play before diving into this very personal family story.
Profile Image for Chris Blocker.
691 reviews160 followers
October 4, 2020
Year of the Rabbit is a graphic novel that depicts one family's struggle to survive the genocide in Cambodia. I've read about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge--this book doesn't really show that. This genocide looks like every other genocide by a tyrannical ruler and I'm not sure this was the case. I'd like to have seen a story that didn't hold back. Perhaps this is just how it was for this family.

Also, this story is a bit chaotic. Too many characters and an artistic style that makes it difficult to distinguish one family member from the next. In many ways, this is an important work, but I didn't find it particularly eye-opening.
Profile Image for Diana.
343 reviews78 followers
September 3, 2021
Year of the Rabbit [2020] - ★★★★1/2

This graphic book tells the true story of the Khmer Rouge regime and its atrocities that took place in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 through the eyes of a couple of families who strive to flee the war-torn country and their persecutors to survive. The author of the work was born just three days after the ruthless Khmer Rouge regime came into power and this is an account of his family's struggles in 1975 as the new communist regime began to suppress all knowledge and culture in the country, later torturing, mass killing or starving some 1.5 to 2 million people. The book starts on 17 April 1975 and we see the events unfold through the eyes of Khim, a doctor, who, with his wife Lina and their small son, find themselves in an unreal situation with the victory of the revolutionary forces in the country. Khim and his family first flee their already occupied city Phnom Penh, but then find themselves sent to another town to get "re-educated", facing inhumane working conditions and famine. The book finishes with the Vietnamese army's move to free the country as Khim and his wife are forced to pose as smugglers to get to Thailand. They are later accepted as refugees and finally emigrate to France in 1985. Apart from a vivid narrative which is accompanied by detailed, colourful illustrations, some book pages also usefully show the insight into a life at that time, for example, the market value of products under the regime, Khim's tips and tricks on how to survive when food is scarce, and the distinctive attributes of the Khmer Rouge soldiers.

The only weakness of the book is that, although the author does provide a page containing a family tree, it is possible to get confused in this story as to what family finds themselves where in the country and at what point in the story's timeline. Overall, though, Veasna's account is still one incredibly moving book about survival against all odds that brings powerfully to life one horrific point in the human history, paying tribute to all the innocent people caught up in the Cambodian genocide and bravely fighting for their families and justice.
Profile Image for Christopher.
232 reviews7 followers
February 11, 2020
Reading about human rights atrocities is difficult. It is hard to read, it is hard to accept, and it is hard to finish. Even though, in a case like this, you know at least one person made it out alive to be able to write the book you hold in your hands, it does not make it any easier.

Year of the Rabbit chronicles the Veasna family's experience of the Khmer Rouge. What starts with a revolution with idealistic goals ends up as a genocidal nightmare. This is a personal story, as the author, Chan (Tian), is speaking of what his relatives went through, so it is not an exploration of the complex rationale of the Khmer Rouge and their policies. What is revealed is the extreme hardships many were forced to endure, with hints to the philosophical reasoning behind at least some aspects of the regime. For example, there is a scene where one individual is sent off to Phnom Penh because they can speak French. It is then revealed that that was a ruse, and anyone who could speak French was just another category of person the Khmer Rouge wanted dead.

Chapters begin with Khmer Rouge propaganda, layouts of villages and camps, and helpful advice on surviving. Each chapter chronologically brings the reader closer to the resolution, and thankfully it comes at all. The last pages of the book look at where everyone ended up in the world, and the penultimate pages show a genealogy of Chan's family, noting who made it and who didn't.

I came close to weeping a few times, and coming back to the end and seeing that genealogy brought it all back up again.

Like Spiegelman's Maus, I think this is required reading for anyone who wants to make sure to never allow these kinds of atrocities from taking place again.
Profile Image for Emily.
498 reviews40 followers
August 19, 2020
Veasna's family story is horrifying and incredible; he was born three days after the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia. He doesn't shy away from the atrocities of the following years, and shows how various members of his extended family managed to stay alive through their wits, resilience, and often outright luck. At times, the storytelling felt a bit scattered.

Veasna tries to relate the macro picture of what was happening in Phnom Penh, power struggles and purges among the Khmer Rouge, technicalities of how the refugee camps across the Thai border worked. He also told personal stories about his sprawling extended family; there were so many characters, some only appearing once or twice, that I had trouble keeping track of everyone. I wish the story had taken a tighter focus, either on the big picture of this period of Cambodian history, or a more intimate portrait of a few individual relatives, instead of trying to do everything at once.
Profile Image for Rachel.
1,365 reviews26 followers
September 19, 2021
Outstanding book about the author's family's experience during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. He was an infant and young child, so he got the information from family members. He was born a few days after the family had to evacuate Phnom Penh. His father was a doctor, but the family had to hide all signs of their socioeconomic status, as the regime was killing anyone educated or prosperous.

Family members were moved around to different camps, sometimes separated, and forced to do long hours of hard labor with hardly any food. If people didn't have the correct views, or were caught in minor infractions or saying the wrong things (and there were spies who would report them), they were likely to be taken out and summarily killed.

The author and his parents survived, along with slightly over half of the 20 or so people in the family tree shown at the beginning of the book. There's a copy of it at the end, with the people who died greyed out. Seems a little like my family tree, whole branches gone from the Holocaust. Which the Khmer Rouge regime was very similar to, in terms of horror and scope.

The book is not as hard to read as it could be; it doesn't flinch away from the atrocities, but it doesn't put the worst parts right up in your face any more than necessary to make the point. It tells the dark story of that period of history, but not with much of an overview of the politics, battles, etc; Pol Pot is mentioned only once. Rather, the family's story shows what it was like for most Cambodians: trying to find out where their relatives were sent, watching for spies, trading whatever they could for food. It shows how kids were taken care of, how work crews could take cigarette breaks, how the criticism meetings went, small kindnesses.

The book is done very nicely. My only problem with it is minor: with the large family and other characters, I couldn't always tell who was who. The art is good, the story is told well and is valuable. Highly recommended.
778 reviews125 followers
February 14, 2020
This is an important part of history to know about.

The book addresses that need, in part.

The book feels too scattered and simple in terms of its storytelling. There are too many story threads and too many characters to track and follow; the structure doesn't help. And unfortunately, the writing is awkward; the language feels unnatural and simplistic. At a certain point, I just skimmed and sped-read this to get to the more important parts.
Profile Image for Stefi.
593 reviews206 followers
July 5, 2021
"Although inequality is increasing and social injusctices remai, cambodia remains to its reputation as "the land of smiles"."

Me and with another graphic memoir from SouthEast Asia. Ini salah satu yang udah lama nangkring di wishlist dan syukur banget bukunya tersedia di perpus.

Year of the Rabbit, menceritakan cerita keluarga penulisnya Tian Veasna, yang berjuang dari murderous reign of Khmer Rogue. Veasna yang lahir 3 hari sebelumnya pecahnya rezim khamer merah ini, merasakan struggle nya Ayah-Ibunya. Dari yg mereka mengungsi dan mencari safety shelter dan berakhir terciduk khamer merah. Kehidupan keluarganya dari tahun 1975-1979 ngga mudah buat bertahan hidup. Bagaimana setiap hari merasakan teror kematian dan kehilangan anggota keluarga.

Aku merasakan roller coster feeling baca ini. Tiap halaman ngerasain tegang, deg-deg'an takut-takut kalau-kalau keluarga khim ketangkep dan di eksekusi. Dan tiap ada halaman ada keluarga yg dieksekusi dengan biadap rasanya nyesek banget.

Buku ini beneran well showing the horror that happened in Cambodia in year 1975-1979. Aku suka penambahan peta dan beberapa info graphic disetiap bab, yang memberi gambaran dan informasi tentang how people life that times. Dan dari buku ini juga jadi belajar juga tentang sejarah kebrutalan Khamer Merah.

I really love the last page of the book, that telling more about the author life after he and his whole family out from cambodia. Eventhough they life well in france and other country they still have those horror and traumatic event of past haunting them till in present day.
Profile Image for Steve Portigal.
Author 2 books147 followers
March 25, 2020
I recently watched "Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll" (it's on Kanopy) which is a history of Cambodian music before and during the horrible upheaval and oppression. It served as a really helpful history lesson that I didn't actually know very much about. This book covers some of that same period, mostly the brutal Khmer Rouge era.

I couldn't really connect with this book. It's very sad and very grim and doesn't shy away from telling a true and terrifying story, so of course that's going to be hard to read. But I couldn't keep track of all the characters and their relationships so it was like a bunch of episodes rather than the journey of a large group of people.

I didn't find the illustrations that compelling and while each chapter started with a unique and creative infographic about some aspect of the horrible conditions and cruelty, I didn't typically look at them as they were tiny and non-linear and I wanted to get on with the story.
Profile Image for Swati.
351 reviews54 followers
October 5, 2021
Have you hankered over a book so much that you keep looking for it everywhere you go? And then the joy when you finally find that book is indescribable, isn’t it? Tian Veasna’s “Year of the Rabbit” (YotR) was one such book for me. Initially, I couldn’t find it anywhere. When it reached Amazon, it was just too expensive. Then, Smitha Murthy prompted me to sign up for Scribd, et voila! YotR was included in my subscription, and I abandoned all else to immediately read it.

YotR is author Tian Veasna’s memoir about his family’s frightening experiences during the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge evacuated his parents and extended family from Phnom Penh to the countryside. From there, the family like everyone else plans their escape to neighbouring countries. This is their story.

When we talk about comics the immediate association is one of levity and brevity. To do that is to undermine the power of images, wordless panels that capture memories and moments. Reading YotR is to journey with Veasna’s parents as they face one nail-biting situation after another where their lives hang in balance. In one instance, the family is about to be ushered onto a boat when an acquaintance manages to hold them back. Later, they learn that all the boats that went across always return bloodstained and empty. Just reading it with the visuals sent chills along my spine.

Years ago, on a trip to Cambodia I visited a war museum, which detailed some of the atrocities of the regime. I remember coming out feeling really morose and shaking my head unable to believe some of the things I had read there. Veasna’s story reminded me of all those images I saw, reinforcing their reality.

I think this book needs a revisit because the canvas is quite huge. There are a multitude of characters coming and going, and after a point it’s difficult to keep track of who’s who. Some reappear after a long gap, and I needed to flip back to see who it was.

Let that not take away the real reasons you should read this powerful book. Read it for the art, the details, and, most of all, to remember that all this happened in the distant past, in the 1970s, merely a few decades ago.
Profile Image for Dakota Morgan.
2,238 reviews25 followers
September 18, 2020
Year of the Rabbit is one of those books where I didn't actually like it, but it's an important, gut-wrenching read so it skews my typical rating system. The book follows one family's descent into the madness of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. From the fall of Phnom Penh to forced labor in the fields to child spies and Vietnamese invasion - it's a harrowing tale that never really lets up.

The "important read" factor boosts Year of the Rabbit at least a star: this isn't exactly a polished book. Though the family tree at the beginning helps a little, Tian Veasna's vast, disparate family are nearly impossible to keep track of. It doesn't help that Veasna's art style can obscure key features, making the cast of characters blend together. I was able to track Vinh, maybe the "main" character, which kept me somewhat grounded in the narrative.

The book also lacks a broader picture of the Khmer Rouge regime's goals, policies, and atrocities - Year of the Rabbit is purely focused on one family's narrative. That's not necessarily a knock against the book (it's still riveting, even without detailed background info), but you'll want some knowledge of Cambodian history before digging in.
Profile Image for Robert.
471 reviews2 followers
June 5, 2022
Graphic (& graphic) family history of survival under the Khmer Rouge. The large cast of characters presented in the beginning of the book was a little intimidating, but once the narrative starts, it is relatively easy to follow & keep track of everyone. Really captures the apocalyptic nature of the “Year Zero”. How much post-apocalyptic fiction was inspired by the Cambodian Revolution? Veasna is really good at drawing evil menacing children. Year of the Rabbit is full of small details that make me curious about aspects of Cambodian history that are outside the scope & experience of one family. For instance, the chart at the beginning of chapter 19 indicates that the Khmer Rouge may have killed over half of their own party during their years in power, making me wonder about the party’s inner workings. This is a book to draw one down countless rabbit holes.
Profile Image for Heidi Burkhart.
2,037 reviews28 followers
September 16, 2022

This GN taught me more about the Khmer Rouge than I learned from any textbook, or even during my travels in Cambodia.

Highly recommended as supplementary reading for any class that is studying this tragic time in Cambodian history.
Profile Image for Ivana Godula.
83 reviews11 followers
February 2, 2022
Dôležitá téma, z môjho pohľadu skvelý štýl ilustrácie, no stratila som sa v postavách, a tak mi unikli línie niektorých životných príbehov.
Profile Image for Kristina (Kristina's Shelves).
1,092 reviews41 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
December 11, 2021
DNF at 50%

I love graphic novel memoirs andI wanted to love this, but there were too many characters. I kept losing track of what was going on and who each person was I'm relation to the story. I also expected more about the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge and wish the author had delved in more rather than introducing more people.
Profile Image for Daphne.
112 reviews15 followers
December 23, 2020
This graphic novel is fantastic. I never knew much about the Khmer Rouge regime outside of what my own parents have told me (from a Vietnamese perspective) and the little research that I did in high school for a school project, so reading this was enlightening and heartbreaking at the same time. Through this comic, you will learn of all the struggles the Cambodian people faced. I really like that it was centered around one family’s story, as well as the graphics that show the family tree, the daily schedule of the workers, lists of things that might help you barter or get you stopped by the Khmer Rouge. I thought those things were done really well. And the maps!! All the maps were a great touch.
Profile Image for Basia.
107 reviews20 followers
May 23, 2021
A moving, noteworthy, real-life account of a family's attempt to wrestle their lives back from the grip of the Khmer Rouge regime. The book's color story soaked memories in a washed out blend of beige, pale greens and greys, sharply accented by the black and red of the Khmer Rouge, and often cloaked in the cover of dark, perilous nights. Details were plentiful and poignant, including territory maps, lists of dos and don'ts, and an inventory of what each person was allowed at Khmer Rouge labor camps, from a palm leaf hat to a single bar of soap meant to last a family a whole year. And the consistent historical contextualization was smart; I felt the story's urgency without feeling unmoored in the political chaos of what was happening. But Tian Veasna's choice to recount these events in third-person was a little befuddling, especially in the epilogue where first-person would've offered more immediacy and intimacy. In the last few pages, he gives a direct glimpse into his life after the massacre and some of the publication process of the book, replete with drawings of his present-day adult self, but made slightly awkward when he refers to himself by name instead opting for "I." It's a forgivable choice though in a particularly memorable book.
Profile Image for Erin.
3,652 reviews45 followers
May 26, 2022
It's hard to rate someone's memoir of a time of terror. In the sense that the illustrations and story conveyed the systematic and implacable horror of the time period, the chaos and feeling that trouble was everywhere, and even the ragged path back to normal, this was very successful. The tragedy is how much this echoes so many other periods in history, so many other authoritarian and repressive regimes, so many other quests for power that leave so many citizens with nothing or dead.

One of the most moving parts was reading how Tian's extended family reacted to their story being published: some wanted to never remember this time, others had painful flashbacks, and others casually noted the book's arrival. Tian himself was born mere days after the new regime took power, and his earliest days were spent in a village under authoritarianism. Food was not fairly distributed, belongings were confiscated by those in power, the slightest infraction was punishable by death. Being a baby and toddler and young person at that time must have been horrifyingly confusing, and then trying to make sense of your family's history years later would have been heartbreaking.

A story that should be told, shared, read, discussed.
Profile Image for Karyl.
1,690 reviews119 followers
January 2, 2021
When I was in college, I worked at a computer store near my dad’s house, and the money manager was a woman called Orphir. I always thought her name was really beautiful, and one day after I had counted my till and she was done counting the take for the day, I asked her about it. She told me she was from Cambodia, but I don’t recall her going into any more detail than that. I told my mom about it later, and that’s when I learned about the Khmer Rouge. A few weeks ago, I listened to the podcast Dictators, and they did a couple of episodes on Pol Pot; I learned even more about the horrors that the Khmer Rouge perpetrated on their own people. To this day, I wonder what Orphir had had to endure in her home country, and my heart goes out to her.

Veasna tells the story of his own family during this awful time. He was born just three days into the regime, and he and his parents survived the relocations of city people into the countryside. He has a really large family, and it was at times hard to keep track of who was doing what throughout the book; I’m glad Veasna included a family tree.

This is an important book, and the graphic novel format allows Veasna to tell this story through images as well as words. This is not a book you will forget easily.
Profile Image for Laura Hoffman Brauman.
2,520 reviews35 followers
April 5, 2021
Cartoonist Tian Veasna was born just a few days after the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia. In Year of the Rabbit, he uses the graphic memoir format to tell the story of his family's experiences. This is a harrowing account of a genocide as it was experienced by his family. In here, he speaks at some point about how it was difficult to get family members who were adults at the time to speak about their experiences- that the pain of revisiting that time made them unwilling or unable to look back and share their stories with him. At times, some of the moments of fear and terror felt slightly distant from the way the story was being told and I wonder if this was due to the emotional distance that family members created when sharing with him. I always find graphic memoir interesting - I appreciate the blending of the art style with the text to paint a picture of the author's experience.
Profile Image for Mateen Mahboubi.
1,236 reviews16 followers
October 29, 2020
A story of suffering and struggle under an oppressive regime, Veasna tells the story of an extended family living in the dark days of the Khmer Rouge. While the personal scale was appreciated, at times missing the wider context hurt the overarching narrative of what else was happening in the country. Also because the family was so large, at time it became difficult to keep track of who was who without referencing the provided family tree.
Profile Image for Adrienne.
339 reviews3 followers
April 21, 2021
When I was a kid my dad had a friend who escaped the Khmer Rouge with his family when he was still a boy. He wore glasses and told me that one day, his mother took his glasses and buried them in the dirt floor of their home. Soldiers came minutes later and checked their house, but left them alive. Later he learned that anyone wearing glasses, no matter how old, was to be shot on sight, as glasses were a symbol of intellectualism.
I've never forgotten the sheer horror that story inspired in me. Now, as an adult, I realize it was only the tip of the iceberg. I am also continually shocked at how few Americans know the story of what happened--most people my age have never heard of Pol Pot or the killing fields or S21--and by the fact that those responsible lived long, happy lives until they were finally brought to justice (?) 40 years later. Stories like this need to be read and understood in light of American imperialist intervention everywhere, and how much the world continues to suffer based on our bloodthirsty refusal to leave the rest of the world alone.
Profile Image for Isabel.
123 reviews
July 7, 2022
4/5 stars.

The Year of the Rabbit is a stunning look at Veasna's family's will to survive during the Cambodian genocide. Veasna's illustrations easily capture the fear and struggle of the Cambodian people and his own family. Similar to when I read A Chinese Life by Li Kunwu (which I also highly recommend), I learned much about this time period that I didn't know before. I want to read more about Cambodian as I feel quite uneducated on it all.
Profile Image for Derek.
366 reviews18 followers
December 1, 2021
I really enjoyed this book and think it does well, overall, to tell a difficult story about difficult times. I think what keeps it from being a five star book for me is that it felt like it could have been a tighter story. It was trying to tell a lot of individual stories, while also telling a complex overarching story, and all in a space that was just not enough for all of that.
Profile Image for Adam Rugnetta.
Author 2 books6 followers
March 24, 2023
This is an important graphic novel. I’ve read about the Khmer Rouge- hell I’ve even taught about it- but I never pictured what actually happened before reading this. The beautifully drawn book is filled with real anecdotes showing the drama the Cambodian people lived with for those years. There were, perhaps, too many characters for me to follow each story but I would not subtract a star for it. If you have any interest in Cambodia you should read this to make sense of the history.
Profile Image for Nhat.
1 review
October 9, 2022
Beautiful story and artwork!

My sister in law is Cambodian, so this story was close to my heart. I knew a little about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, but this story really put the events in perspective. It was an easy read with beautiful artwork. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Mary Paradise.
47 reviews
November 19, 2022
I've really been appreciating reading graphic novels about different events in history that I didn't know much about. My older sister introduced me to Persepolis which first opened my eyes to historic graphic novels. This is one of the best that I have read.
Profile Image for Benjamin Crevier.
6 reviews1 follower
January 17, 2021
Very touching story. Lots of historical info that really add up to the reading experience. Great drawings.
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