Saturday, September 24, 2011

Marzi, a memoir by Marzena Sowa

I haven’t read many graphic novels, but I found myself intrigued by Marzi, a Memoir tucked in with the other preview books. The cover certainly didn’t sell me, with its grayscale Manga-esque small girl holding a rabbit surrounded by men in military fatigues holding batons. Even the author photo on the back unnerved me, as she’s holding a line drawing half-portrait of the same bug-eyed girl over her unsmiling face. I was caught by the text above that portrait that proclaimed, “I am Marzi, born in 1979, ten years before the end of communism in Poland.”

Marzena Sowa wrote about her childhood at the urging of her partner Sylvain Savoia, who illustrated the novel. Her story is nothing new, just the tale of a little girl growing up: the things she likes and doesn’t, the things she fears, the friends she has/makes/loses and how and where they play, the relationship she has with her mother and father… The beauty of Marzi as narrator is she tells of her life as if it is so normal, because to her it is. To Marzi it is normal to wait in line for hours for groceries, and normal to discover the shelves are empty and the clerks will only rudely answer “Nie ma!” to any request one has. Likewise it is normal (if humiliating) to wear a toilet paper roll necklace home from the store, because one had better stock up when an item is available. It is normal to march smilingly in a Labor Day parade if your parents want to keep their jobs. It is normal to put your name on a waiting list for a television and then wait in front of the store every week to see if it is your turn to buy one.

What is not normal in Marzi’s life is being rushed home from summer vacation to a hospital to drink a medicine to counter the effects of Chernobyl. It is unusual, but important, to turn off television sets and lights at night as a sign of silent protest against the government. It is extraordinary, but vital, for workers to strike by refusing to leave a factory, taking it over, to force discussion about making a country where what is “normal” is what the citizens choose, not what a government answerable to another country decides is “normal.”

I remember not fully understanding Solidarność when the evening broadcasts were filled with news about it. I can’t say I fully understand it now, but I tremendously appreciate the perspective of a little girl who lived history. Marzi is a translation, so the English is a bit off sometimes, but very readable. I understand from some research that the original, in French, had color panels as well, so perhaps the finished product will not be in black and white. Marzi is set to be released October 25th.

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