Marzi TP Paperback – 21 Oct 2011
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About the Author
Marzena Sowa was born in Stalowa Wola, Poland. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Getting a chance to peek behind the iron curtain and to see what Polish life was like was fascinating, particularly because it illustrated how normal the day to day really was. There are a lot of interesting shorts, like what it was like preparing for the Christmas dinner by keeping a live Carp in the bathtub for a few days, or the routine of waiting in lines for grocery staples. But what surprised me the most was the overall tone of the stories and how honestly Sowa presents herself as sort of a bratty spoiled child. Simply judging from the cover illustration, which features a young scowling Marzi awkwardly manhandling a plush bunny, tiny amongst a sea of Polish soldiers in riot gear, you get the impression that this would be a darker memoir about the struggle and hardships of life. While this is certainly a part of the backdrop to the story, it's actually more upbeat and a tad whiney. The cover illustration is actually a reworking of the cover to the second Belgian collection (Sur la terre comme au ciel - On the Ground as with the Sky), which features a more quizzical and curious Marzi. I'm wondering if the folks at Vertigo might be getting a little bit underhanded with their marketing.
Similarly, this English volume contains a complete re-coloring of the original comics. The Belgian editions were very vibrant and whimsical in tone, whereas this new volume is upping the tone of hardship behind the curtain by rendering the pages in drab browns and dull reds. It's almost as if they pulled their monochromatic color scheme from the scenes of the girl in the little red dress from Schindler's List trying to make the work more heavy and dramatic than it really is. I found this heavy-handed marketing distracting, but the content of the stories still manages to shine through.
Overall my favorite aspect of Marzi: a memoir are Savoia's illustrations. His style is much in the vein of Jeff Smith, which features the beautiful juxtaposition between realistic and exaggeratedly cartoon-y renderings. This duality in the artwork combined with the coming of age stories evokes the work of Bill Waterson's Calvin and Hobbes at times, yet still manages to feel completely like it's own work. I think fans of auto-bio comics, in particular strip comics, will find a lot to enjoy in Marzi. I just wish the translation of the comic ended with the text, instead of co-opting the tone as well.
The book is also for me (a guy) an excellent introduction to what it was like for a young girl to grow up poor in turbulent times, and very honest about both the good and bad ways she coped with her challenges. Overall, Marzi is a person I'd really like to have as a friend, and a wonderfu ambassador for her country and culture.
The artwork added quite a lot to my enjoyment of the book.
This would be a great book to read together with kids, but isn't only for kids. It touches on some tough topics, but gently and respectfully.
Overall, I really did enjoy this graphic novel. The version I had was a little over 200 pages long, and with the vignettes, it made it hard to stick with the novel in one sitting. I found myself coming back to it, to read a few stories at a time. One part of the story that I found especially interesting was the section after the accident in Chernobyl. Although it was far away, the affect of the radioactive cloud that traveled to Marzi's town in Poland was huge! The fears they had over the rain, the food, and even their animals sent a country already suffering for food and work into a greater tailspin. I don't know that I'd ever considered the dramatic affect this event had on other nations, but we really do get a good first-hand account from little Marzi.
On the whole, this was a good graphic novel that I could see being used to help explain more about Poland's modern history and about communism. Honestly, it has made me want to learn more about the author today and her thoughts on these events as an adult. Not a short read, but a good one!
When I read the description of Marzi, I thought perhaps the book could cast some light on the subject for me, since Poland too was deeply affected by a Soviet communist government. Marzena Sowa is one person who grew up in Poland; I'm sure that her life, in many ways, was different from my friend's. But I found the story fascinating. I learned about Christmas fish and radioactive mushrooms, about a culture where people were aware of Barbie's existence but still [in some cases] bathed in big metal washtubs. It's easy to grow up hearing about how things are or were in other countries, about differences and suffering, without really being affected by that knowledge. Marzi puts a face on the suffering and shows how it affected ordinary people. Sylvain Savoia's intimate study of Marzena's early life is something the rest of us are lucky to be able experience.
Marzi took me longer to read than I had expected, and I'm glad. I feel like taking the time to share a little bit of Marzi's life has enriched my own.
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