April 28, 2021

Graphic Novel Review: The Shabows, by Vincent Zabus and Hippolyte

Title: The Shadows

Author: Vincent Zabus

Illustrator: Hippolyte

Publisher: Europe Comics

Date of Publication: November 20th 2020

Number of Pages: 190

See it on Goodreads: The Shadows


Summary

At the end of an arduous journey, refugee 214 finally gets his chance to enter the Other World. But to see his wish granted, the boy must first tell the story of how he and his sister were forced to flee their homeland. Frightened and helpless, they crossed forests, deserts, and seas, encountering creatures each more mysterious and frightening than the last: the capitalist ogre, the smuggler-snake, and the ever-present shadows from the great beyond… The boy’s story must be told in every detail—but will the truth save him, or condemn him? This is the odyssey of a brother and sister who are forced to fight for their freedom and survival at every turn, all the while trying not to forget about where they’ve come from, and what they’ve left behind. A subtle and captivating tale about exile and refugees today.

Review - A Tree With No Roots

Writing about this graphic novel is not easy. I have been thinking about how I should start writing this review for a while now, and I only end up looking at the blank screen. So, I'm just going to start placing one word after another, and we'll see where this goes.

Before getting into the actual graphic novel, I'd like to mention that this is the adaptation of the 2008 theatrical play of Vincent Zabus. The writer adapted the script for the graphic novel, and Hippolyte illustrated it. This isn't the first time that the writer and the artist have collaborated, having also created Incredible!. 

As the summary of this book suggests, this is the story of Refugee 214. The graphic novel begins with our young protagonist in an interrogation room. He is surrounded by the shadows of the people that he has lost along the way. They all represent his story, his memories, his regrets, and his shame. He knows that what he tells in this interview will be his ticket to get accepted to this Other Country, the place where he will start afresh. But, is his conscience ready to accept what he has been through? Is he brave enough to admit what he was forced to do just to survive, even though he might be framed as a criminal?


Refugee 214 began his journey from the Low Country with his sister. Low Country is a place with rich soil and for this reason, there is always someone trying to claim it. When the situation gets worse, the protagonist has to flee with his sister, without even saying goodbye to their mother. And then, their struggles begin. They get lost in the woods and ultimately captured by the Capitalist Ogre, who thrives through the hard labour of people and children just like them. They manage to escape and gain two more companions along the way. They reach the High Country and feel lost in the big city until they can find the means to pay the smuggler who will take them to the Other Country.

All through this way, our protagonist sees the shadow of his father. He had fled the country before them to find a better place for them. However, he died on his way there, and so, he tries to help his son and daughter through his experiences. We learn about the exile sickness, a condition that turns people into living corpses. A condition that ultimately consumes the individual and lets his memories float above the sea. 

To be honest, this story feels like a punch in the gut. If you live in Europe, then you are familiar with what the refugees have to go through. You have probably heard of how many people were lost in the Mediterranean Sea and how the smugglers' false promises took everything from these people. And the graphic novel doesn't shy away from all the horrendous things that might happen along the way. One of the companions gets sexually assaulted and murdered, and our protagonist has to kill to defend himself.

However, what is even more heart-wrenching in this story is the part after Refugee 214 reaches the Other Country. We witness the interview and how the interrogator claims to be impartial. Yet, when our protagonist tells the truth, he is willingly calling him a criminal. We never learn if he gets accepted in the Other Country and whether he starts a new life. And this, makes me wonder just how many people are in my own country in the same situation. Greece is the temporary home for thousands of refugees that tried to reach some EU country. 

The story stretched out all these feelings and thoughts by not including any name. I understand that for some this might be a drawback as it eliminates an element that will make the reader feel closer to these characters. Nevertheless, I thought that this was an excellent choice. Again, being from Greece, I have read on the daily news about refugees lost at sea, saved from a shipwreck, put in camps, etc. The news is always about the refugees, not individual stories. This graphic novel seems to understand this, and it puts actual stories to the nameless word "refugee".  

The Shadows - Vincent Zabus, Hippolyte

As I've already mentioned, the story is a powerful one. However, I can't end this review without talking about the art style. Hippolyte has made a good job at illustrating the story. First, I have to admit how much I love watercolour, and I'm usually drawn to graphic novels with this art style. Indeed, The Shadows was no exception to this rule as there were some pages that I didn't want to stop looking at. 

However, the illustration is not just dreamy watercolour. The illustrations follow the emotional journey of these characters and evolve accordingly. There are panels with dark, bold lines that give off an ominous feeling. When the story reaches a hopeful stage, then the outlines and colours get softer and warmer. 

The character design is peculiar. All of our protagonists have faces that remind a mask without many characteristics. I believe that this is another element that ties with the fact that we don't have any names for the characters. The shadows actually remind me of some creatures that I could have seen in a Miyazaki film. They are huge black masses with a white face and no other distinct features. 

All in all, The Shadows is a graphic novel worth checking out. It is definitely not an easy read, even though it is concealed under a fantasy element. It will break your heart but show you the stories of so many people fighting for survival. 


March 3, 2021

Discussion: Did This Writer Really Say That?

 

Hello, everyone! I have been thinking about the topic I should discuss next, and I couldn't find any inspiration. Then, one evening I was mindlessly scrolling down on Facebook, when I noticed a book quote. Well, this is nothing strange for social media, although this quote clearly didn't belong to the credited writer. So, I have decided to just have fun and gather some misattributed and inaccurate book quotes that have been circulating social media. I promise to follow this up with a more fleshed out discussion post, or even a book/comic book review.

In fact, there are so many of them that I don't really know where to begin. However, I'm going to give you the quote that started it all!


🔖 Ernest Hemingway

We are all broken, that's how the light gets it. 

Have I told you before how important Leonard Cohen is for me? I think I have, when I talked about his poetry on my post on love poems. Knowing this, you can understand my annoyance and amusement, when I first saw this quote! You see, there is no way I couldn't recognize such a popular Leonard Cohen lyric as "That's how the light gets in" is. This lyric comes from the song Anthem, where the chorus goes like this:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in

So, how come this appears with another beginning under the name of Hemingway? Well, this article on Quote Investigator has a thorough explanation on the quote. In essence, Ralph Waldo Emerson had written in 1841 "There is a crack in every thing God has made". I can clearly imagine Leonard Cohen getting inspired by this quote. I haven't dug into Hemingway's work so much to be in a position to say the same. However, there is a quote in A Farewell to Arms, where he writes "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places".

There you have it! This is actually the only quote on this list that triggered me (but that's only because Cohen is so important to me).


🔖 Mark Twain

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Everyone loves a good Mark Twain quote! If you go on social media, chances are you are going to find someone quoting Twain. This writer has said so many things that it's easy to get lost, misattributed him, or just place his name on any quote, without anyone noticing. 

The above quote is one of the most popular ones that Mark Twain didn't actually say, even though he is the one that popularized it. In fact, Mark Twain himself has attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli, which was a 19th century British Prime Minister. However, on this website, you can read that the writer was probably wrong, leaving the actual origin of this quote unknown. The earliest appearance of the quote found today comes from 1892 from Arthur James Balfour.


🔖 C. S. Lewis

We read to know that we are not alone.

What a wonderful quote! As bookworms, these words speak directly to our hearts. But did C.S. Lewis really say or write them? There is no indication that the writer ever did. William O'Flaherty has done a thorough research on the work of C.S. Lewis and all of his sayings. You can check his book "The Misquotable C.S. Lewis: What He Didn’t Say, What He Actually Said, and Why It Matters", or read the analysis for the specific quote here.

What happened in this case is that this was a phrase from the 1993 film "Shadowlands" were Anthony Hopkins played C.S. Lewis. The actor speaks these words in the film, even though it is never stated that they originated from the famous writer. It's easy to understand where the mix-up happened. 


🔖 Oscar Wilde

I’m Not Young Enough To Know Everything.

If you are looking for the most quotable writer, then you probably have to pick Oscar Wilde. There are so many witty quotes from this writer, that it's easy to understand why they have spread on social media. However, this quote doesn't belong to Oscar Wilde. This article makes it clear that the phrase comes from the play “The Admirable Crichton”, by J. M. Barrie. The only Oscar Wilde quote that comes close is "The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything".


🔖 Albert Einstein

Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once.

So, Albert Einstein isn't a writer, but I couldn't really resist! His quotes are EVERYWHERE online, so I had to check which ones are inaccurate. From all the ones you will find online, I chose this one because it is an interesting case. Einstein is famous for his relativity theory. So, why would he justify the existence of time, when he clearly proved that time is relative? 

Quote Investigator has once again provided us with a thorough research that shows us all the times that this quote has appeared anywhere. The first time was in 1919 in the short story “The Girl in the Golden Atom”, by Ray Cummings (which you can download and read here). This quote has also been attributed to Mark Twain. 


That's it for today! Let me know if you enjoyed this topic so that can I write a part 2 in the future. I had a great time researching these quotes. 


Which is your favourite misattributed/incorrect quote?


February 9, 2021

Discussion: What Did Your Favourite Books Teach You?

 


Hello, everyone! How have you been? I am finally back, and I know that I've told you so many times before. However, this time I'm back with a post, and so this marks the official end of my hiatus. I'm still in the healing process, but I will try to keep a schedule and post at least once per week. 

First, I would like to thank all of you for helping me choose what I should write about. The discussion topics are always so fun to write, and in the process, I have challenged myself (like when decluttering my TBR list). 

So, the majority of you wanted me to share some personal story about reading, and this is what you are getting! However, I have added a twist - instead of getting one story, you are going to read many of them. 

This week's discussion topic is What did your favourite books teach you? On this post, I wanted to talk about my favourite books and how each one of them influenced me as a person and as a writer. I hope that you enjoy this discussion and share your reading stories with me. I can't wait to read how your favourite books have influenced you!


Number9Dream by David Mitchell

It is no secret that my favourite author is David Mitchell. It is also no secret that Cloud Atlas is probably my favourite book. However, I have talked plenty of times about Cloud Atlas! Here, I wanted to tell you about another David Mitchell novel that holds a special place in my heart.

number9dream is an interesting case of a novel. For this blog, it is special as it is the second novel I have ever reviewed (although right now, I found these early reviews pretty cringy).

Despite the writing style, theme, story, etc. number9dream holds a special place in my heart and my library, because it was the book that made me want to write. And I mean to write interesting novels that are not bound by genre rules. 

The thing about this novel is that it is divided into chapters with different themes that influence the writing style. How did I interpret that as a young write? My first (completed) novella has 14 chapters in total. What I wanted to do is write 14 short stories about the same protagonist that would work perfectly as standalone stories and as a whole. I don't know if the result is 100% what I wanted it to be, but I am very satisfied with it. I will talk about it more later on as there are more books that influenced my writing style. 

Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence

Oh boy, here we come! Women In Love is one of those books that I feel like I have recommended you many times, even though I have never talked extensively about it. Today, you are going to discover why it is such an important book for me.

Before saying anything else, I have to admit that the first time I read it, I was in a very delicate state emotionally. I picked up Women In Love after breaking up with my first boyfriend of 3 years, when I was 21 years old. I was young and devastated, and I believed that I chose this books because of the title. You know, at first glance, I though that it would be a classic like Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, etc. I couldn't be more wrong!

If you are familiar with D.H. Lawrence, then you know that his writing style is rather sensual. In this novel, I didn't get a typical love story, where the protagonists overcome the obstacles and manage to find their happy ever after. Instead, what I got was two very strange relationships that fall in all the places in between. Even now that I'm 30 years old, I believe that what Women In Love taught me about relationships is something that I could never gain from my own experiences. 

Moreover, we have to mention the elephant in the room. We can't talk about a D.H. Lawrence novel and not talk about the sex. This was the first novel that I realized that sex can be a statement. It can mean so many things, and in the hands of a skilful writer, the statement will be powerful. The same thing is even present on Lady Chatterley's Lover, which is another novel that I really love (and also has my favourite sex scene in literature). 

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Yes, we have arrived in Japanese literature. You all know it very well that I LOVE Japanese literature, and I especially love the work of Yoko Ogawa. Even though I have reviewed Hotel Iris and The Memory Police, I have never really talked to you about The Housekeeper and the Professor.

Earlier, I mentioned that I would talk about another book that influenced my writing. This book is The Housekeeper and the Professor, which has a more fitting original title (The Professor's Favourite Equation). 

What I have learnt from this novel is that you can express more feelings in a quiet setting, where things seem to be ordinary and mundane. Feelings can be expressed without words in small gestures and everyday phrases. You don't always need grand expressions to be passionate. Tenderness is something that can exist in silence. And this is a thing that I have only found in Japanese literature.

At this point, I have to admit that my own writing style has been very much influenced by this. My novella is written in first-person narrative and I have tried to keep the prose simple and quiet. It fits my protagonist's personality and world view. I have even chosen not to name him, which is another thing that I have seen a lot in Japanese literature.



That's it for today! I hope that you enjoyed my stories. Feel free to let me know what your favourite books have taught you in the comments!

What did your favourite books teach you?