Monday, May 10, 2010

More Memoir: Satrapi, Small and Dahl

I got lots of time to read last week, during our anniversary trip to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island (pics and anecdotes coming soon).

I spent most of my shopping time in Serendipity, our favorite used bookstore. And look what I found! The rest of the story!

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return This book is about Marjane Satrapi's teenage and young adult years in Europe (her parents sent her away to protect her from war), and then her return to Iran after she hits rock bottom trying to discover who she is and establish her own identity. She describes herself as being a Westerner to her family and friends in Iran, and an Iranian to everyone outside her home country. The way she illustrates this "not fitting in" was really poignant. I wonder why this topic is so relate-able to so many people. I loved discovering the second half of this story, and was sad when the book ended.

I also found another treasure. Stitches: A Memoir by David Small had less text than the other graphic novels I've read, and relied more heavily on illustration.

The drawings seem fluid and very dream-like. The emotion David experiences as a little boy are really striking (fear, anger, confusion) and I immediately got sucked into the drama of the story. The Persepolis artwork was almost block-prints with very solid lines and all two-tone (black or white, no grey). In contrast, Stitches used a spectrum of grey and varying line width which made the drawings really expressive. The story focuses on an operation the author had as a child, his perception of his cold and quiet mother, and how his doctor-father's best efforts actually ruin David's health and does permanent damage.

My sister was flipping through the book yesterday (back-to-front), browsing the drawings, and I said, "NO! You have to read the story in order!" She said, "But it looks really scary and depressing." It's certainly not a visit to Candy Land, but real life rarely is, in my opinion. The raw quality of the story is even more important since it's written from the perspective of a child. I wouldn't let Sister judge it without reading it first (in the proper order). PS: Sis, you left the book on my coffee table last night, but you still have to borrow it and read the whole thing. You already appreciated the artwork, but I want to talk about the story line!

I'm currently reading Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl (author of James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, BFG, all those classic kids books with quirky artwork).

This isn't a graphic memoir, but I'm loving the pictures he draws from memory. Here's how Dahl introduces his own stories:
An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details. This is not an autobiography. I would never write a history of myself. On the other hand, throughout my young days at school and just afterwards a number of things happened to me that I have never forgotten.

Turns out Roald Dahl was Norwegian, which I never knew. The chapters I read last night describe his family vacations to Oslo. My Grandfather was born in Norway (he was a few years younger than Mr. Dahl) and I can picture Grandpa as the rascally hero of these stories. Their pictures even look similar.
Can you stand it? Just look at that face! I'm going to find a picture of Grandpa to compare.

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