Wednesday, June 28, 2006

No Loot Wednesday - replaced by We Were On Our Own

It seems that there are no comic book shipments in Ottawa today. Who knows it might just be late and they'll be in the shops when I go home after work. So no pointless opinionating until they arrive in the city.


I picked up We Were On Our Own when I was in Toronto a few weeks back and decided to check out The Beguiling. Chris was in NY at MOCCA and I was in a bit of a crappo mood that day after a lot of driving around for an entire weekend. Still, I wanted to check it out and pick up some stuff I’m finding hard to locate in Ottawa. Here's a link to a pdf preview. For some reason I can't seem to get photos loaded through blogger.

Basically I wanted something other than superheroes. I wanted a story that would be touching and a break from what I usually read. So I figured the memoirs of an older woman consisting of her and her mother’s escape from Budapest during WWII was as far away from capes as I could get without being erotic gay baseball manga.

I have to admit, I tended to avoid this book for the last few weeks. For a number of different reasons I seemed to avoid starting it. Part of the reason is what little I knew about the story and the main other reason was lack of time. I wanted to make sure I could sit down and read it all from cover to cover instead of in installments. Eventually I found myself with free time on a Sunday. I picked it up and read through the entire story as my cup of tea went cold on the coffee table. I was simply enraptured by the story.

The basic plot one we’ve come across countless times in the retelling of World War Two. The horrors of the extermination and brutality shown towards fellow human beings has long been recognized but this book it a part of the growing pantheon of stories about hope. The hope and desire to survive are quickly becoming a new mythology for this generation. This story acknowledges the horrors but focuses on the will of the survivors to simply survive. This is a basic human trait. It is the prime desire of any animal to survive and yet this story does not reduce its characters to a primal urge.

Yes they are simply trying to survive when faced with insurmountable odds but the characters manage it with something other than basic instinct. I want to say pride or grace but considering the circumstances involved none of these descriptors fit quite right. I think it’s because of all the horrors surrounding these women that the simple fact that they don’t give in makes them appear noble and strong.

The point of view of the story helps make the horrors a bit more digestible. We see everything through the eyes of a child. So we look up to her mother just as Miriam does. We don’t get the full details of what is happening but we see enough to be disturbed and see her strength of character to continue with her life. And ultimately for every large evil committed we see a small act of kindness as if both were simply unavoidable when dealing with people.

Then there are “extras” after the story is concluded – which I have to admit was shocking in the simple fact that it was a happy ending. WE are given snippets of letters her father wrote, a photo of a young Miriam, and a little anecdote about a map that honestly brought tears to my eyes. It was so unbelievable touching that it’s taken me a while to get to writing about it.

In the end the snippet about the map helps sum up the story. So many things from that time were simply lost. This story helps preserve some of the fear and wonder experienced.

I have to say that the only real complaint I have is the cardboard cover isn’t the greatest material choice. At least I think it’s cardboard because by the time I got it home all the corners were dented and starting to separate. And I wasn’t using the book for batting practice or anything.

Oh, I also picked up this book because it explored a time and place I know very little about. I was in Budapest for a while and it’s really one of the unknown gems of Europe. I even saw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels there for the first time because it was like three weeks since I was somewhere where anyone spoke any English whatsoever and the movies were subtitled and not dubbed. I wanted to learn a bit more about the place which I did both through this book and by using this book as a catalyst to look up a few things about the history of Budapest.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. The art is recognizable and just distorted enough to convey both the ugliness of the situations and the beauty of others. There are frenetic violent scenes causing the reader a lot of tension but they are counter balanced with unbelievably loving and tender scenes. The sketchy pencil drawing used throughout really does solidify the childhood point of view throughout. This could just as easily be seen in the margins of a young girl’s schoolbook as in a graphic novel. I guess it was disturbingly beautiful if you’ll allow for the oxymoron. It is a wonderful book of a personal history that I’ve been recommending to people in look of a good book for a summer weekend.

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