By Emmanuel Guibert. Roaring Books Press. English edition 2008. New York.
The quality of the illustrations first caught my attention when I scanned the graphic novel shelves in our local library branch. I anticipated that a war biography might hold my attention – I have been watching the Ken Burns PBS series on the American civil war – so I picked it up.
I really enjoyed this book and belive it is remarkable and rich work.
It reads like an autobiography. It was developed from conversations during Alan’s late retirement years in France. We are pulled us into the story and eventually we can’t easily put it down. The story begins with his enlistment in WWII as a young man and grows in significance and complexity , engaging our feelings and attention through the various twists and turns of circumstance throughout his life during the war and after. It conveys a real life as lived: opportunities are taken, or missed.
The fragmented nature of life is an underlying aspect of this narrative. This is no tale of violent military experiences. Few shots are fired. It is more about whom Alan meets, about how friendships grow, about separations, regrets and reconnections. It is about how one person reponded to challenging circumstances. It is about the times he took risks, the times he changed course, the times he had to let things go.
People come and go during his life. Relationships form and shift. Odd things happen which are not something you can explain, or even want to explain – perhaps a vision during night manouevers, or an occassion when he helped a war orphan. It shows us how Alan transformed over time from and American foot-soldier eventually into a thoughtful, erudite European-American living abroad in France.
Certainly, this book is a fine example of what a graphic novel can do. The superb black and white inked images are integral to the pacing and development of character, mood, locale. The images really help to engage our feelings about events and people portrayed. The way this material is presented is deeply engaging and essential to our enjoyment and to our understanding of the man’s life.