Marzi by Marzena Sowa

‘Marzi’ is a memoir of childhood in Communist Poland, written by Marzena Sowa with beautiful illustrations by her French partner, Sylvain Savoia. The limited palette of grey, beige and orange worked well, giving an historical sepia look that reinforced the mood of poverty and limited resources. I liked Savoia’s puckish sense of humour, clean lettering and sharp ink lines.

Interesting to read these stories of deprivation, oppression and rebellion against a sinister but elusive “Big Brother” during the heyday of ‘The Hunger Games’. It’s not exactly post-apocalyptic, but Chernobyl is a close call.

Marzi’s Poland is a real world parallel to Katniss’ Panem, but told from the perspective of a small child who doesn’t understand what is happening around her. Marzi is not an emotionless warrior: she’s scared of spiders, likes sitting in trees and imagines the rich inner lives of ants and mushrooms in the forest. As an only child and a little girl in a big family, Marzi is awed and confused by her mother’s passionate Catholicism, but loves her factory-working, cigarette-smoking father and fears for his safety when the labour strikes start. She plays pranks like a brat, envies her neighbors, is a picky eater who hates meat. We read about her pets, her games, her clothes, her friends, her passion for France. All the things that make Marzi both unique and universal.

As an added bonus, I learned quite a bit about Polish history and geography including a mini-tour of Krakow with its fire-breathing dragon statue, Polish customs like the Christmas Carp, Polish farm life, and most of all Polish politics. Hard to believe that Marzi was born in 1979 and I was born 1977, and that all these things – Communism, Chernobyl, Catholicism – were impacting another little girl at the same time as my safe, plentiful, church-free Canadian childhood was taking place.

Liked this? You might also enjoy: Marjane Satrapi’s ‘Persepolis’, Jason Lutes’ ‘Berlin: City of Stones’, Chester Brown’s ‘I Never Liked You’, Jason Little’s ‘Shutterbug Follies’ or David Small’s ‘Stitches’.

4 of 5 stars / bookshelves: graphic-novel, 240 pages, Publisher: Vertigo (Oct 25 2011)
Read from February 21 to March 01, 2012

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