A half-century and more ago, when I was growing up, there was a comic book series in the United States called “Classics Illustrated” which retold novels, myths and—my own favorites—history in a format normally reserved for Spiderman. These were probably not the most accurate introductions to Marco Polo or Caesar, but they stirred the imagination.
Laura Gao was born in Wuhan and spent her first four years with grandparents in China while her mother and father studied in the US. When she reunites with her parents, she finds herself in the strange land of Texas where teachers and new classmates can not pronounce her Chinese name, the only name she knows. Gao writes about culture shock and identity in her engaging new book, Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American, a story nicely accompanied by vivid drawings.
Bangkok, as Thailand’s largest and most economically-important cities, attracts migrants from all over the country. Drawn to its economic opportunities, migrants eke a living working in informal jobs, with few protections—yet they build a community among their fellow migrants and workers.
Trust China to turn white privilege on its head and make a business of it. A decade or two ago, one way expats at loose ends could make a living there, albeit somewhat precariously and less-than-entirely-honestly, was to be “hired by a Chinese company to pose as a professional at events where a Western face lends the company extra credibility in its own market.” These are known as doing “face jobs”.
Keum Suk Gendry-Kim’s mother became separated from her sister back in 1950 and has not seen her since. Her mother is one of more than 130,000 people who have applied through the Red Cross to locate a missing sibling, child, or spouse left behind in North Korea. Stories of these separations are the subjects of Gendry-Kim’s new graphic novel, The Waiting, translated by Janet Hong. Hong also translated Gendry-Kim’s graphic novel Grass, which told about Korean girls and women who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese during WWII. The Waiting is just as informative—and distressing—as Grass.
Graphic novels are taken more seriously in Europe than in the English-speaking world, and so it is perhaps not surprising that The King of Bangkok, a socio-political-historical narrative based on ten years of ethnographic research by anthropologist Claudio Sopranzetti, first appeared in Italian. Although a “novel” in the sense it’s fictionalized, the elements (say the authors) are based on real people and real events: the result is a sort of distillation of recent Thai social history.
It’s Livy’s first day of sixth grade at her new school and Livy is understandably apprehensive. There are worries about new friends, about fitting in, about making her parents (who have sacrificed to send their only daughter to a school in a better district) proud. But Livy has more than nerves; following Livy to school is Viola, Livy’s anxiety brought to life as a violet-hued shadow that constantly rattles and second-guesses Livy’s thoughts and actions.