Saturday, August 17, 2019


Marzi: a memoir / Marzena Sowa; illus. Sylvain Savoia
trans. from the French by Anjali B. Singh

NY: Vertigo Comics, 2011, c2008.
240 p.
I picked this one up by chance when it was recommended to me by a coworker. I loved it! I've been reading a string of novels about the USSR and the Soviet lifestyle -- this one carries on from early and mid-Soviet life in Russia to late communism in Poland. 

Marzi is a small girl during this time; born in 1979 she's recalling her childhood in communist Poland as things are starting to crumble and people are getting sick of the constraints and rules and lack of everything they need. 

The book is organized in a series of interconnected short stories, I'd say. They are brief flashes at moments in this child's life, from the mundane to the terrifying, like when her father doesn't come home from work and she's imagining the worst. It's a straightforward narrative, in a confessional tone, nothing overly literary or experimental about it. Even the illustrations are consistent, always in a six block panel per page, with grey, brown, black dominating, with hits of red/orange and brighter colour here and there. It feels like normal life although joy isn't always in evidence, even in the colour scheme. I am quite taken by the way that Marzi is drawn with huge eyes while everyone else is portrayed in a more realistic style. It's a great image for a child who is always watching everything and telling us about it now. 

There are delightful memories; sledding with her father, visiting her grandmother's village, taking a trip to Krakow with her grandmother, playing silly games with the other children in her apartment block -- and darker ones where we are suddenly introduced to the history of Poland's uprising, albeit from a child's viewpoint. 

I found that it worked well. It was engaging, with the narrator acting in a believably child-like way, bringing her naive perspective to all the things around her that she didn't understand. It feels thorough, and it is fascinating to see how her memories and the only lifestyle she knew are portrayed, looking back.

This makes a great final Soviet era read for this month, showing yet another facet of life under Russia's control. Recommended for fans of memoir or graphic novel style stories. 

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