Image Credits: Exit Wounds cover from comicsalliance. ABC cover from nassaulibrary
This week I read two graphic novels thanks to Vishy who kindly lent them to me. I finished both of them in a day’s time and thought I would write one review for both. The books in question are Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. I found both extremely well-written and illustrated (in color!).
Here is the brief of Exit Wounds from the book jacket –
In modern day Tel Aviv, a young man, Koby Franco, receives an urgent phone call from a female soldier named Numi. Learning that his estranged father may have been a victim of a suicide bombing in Hadera, Koby reluctantly joins Numi in searching for clues. As Koby tries to unravel the mystery of his missing father, he finds himself not only piecing together the last few months of his father’s life, but his entire identity.
I was captivated from the first page of Exit Wounds. Beginning with the aforesaid phone call, Koby goes on a search and in the process he discovers that though he had thought he disliked his father, there was still a soft corner for him somewhere. Koby had always hated the fact that his father never did the right thing.
Koby: It’s the day of my birthday. He takes out a box, tells me to close my eyes. My mother was watching too, all excited.
Numi: So? What did he get you?
Koby: A Maccabi Tel-Aviv soccer outfit. With the whole team’s signatures on the Jersey.
Numi: That’s wonderful!
Koby: Right. Only I’m a Ha’ Poel fan.
Numi: Oh, no! But it’s funny, isn’t it?
Koby: Only a girl could say that. It sure wasn’t funny to me. I was so disappointed I cried… It was so typical. He hardly knew me. He wasn’t thinking about me, only about himself.
In Koby we see a highly irascible and detached person initially, but scenes like these give a clue to why he might have become like that. He is in fact highly reluctant to even look for his father. When Numi says that he hadn’t contacted her in a long time since the bombing, Koby remains skeptical saying he might have just disappeared.
I loved the color illustrations a lot as it made the scenes come alive powerfully. Instead of visualizing Koby and Numi driving on a highway, we actually see it. That is not to say that the visuals overpower the writing. The words are equally or more riveting. I particularly enjoyed the small undercurrent of humor that runs through the book and finally becomes the strongest feeling in the end, though in an unfortunate way. I would highly recommend reading this book even if you are not much of a graphic novel fan.
The second book, American Born Chinese, has an interesting format that combines three stories. The first story is based on the story of the Monkey King – the Journey to the West. Indeed, the second story is about Jin who makes his journey to the west, albeit symbolically because he is born in San Francisco. But to his classmates and even his teachers he is an alien with unpronounceable names and culture.
Teacher: Class, I’d like us all to give a warm Mayflower Elementary welcome to your new friend and classmate Jing Jang!
Jin: Jin Wang.
Teacher: Jing Wang! He and his family recently moved to our neighborhood all the way from China!
Jin: San Francisco.
Teacher: San Francisco!
A boy puts his hand up.
Teacher: Yes, Timmy.
Timmy: My momma says Chinese people eat dogs.
Teacher: Now be nice Tommy! I’m sure Jin doesn’t do that! In fact, Jin’s family probably stopped that sort of thing as soon as they came to the United States!
I can tell you this kind of misconception is very much rampant today from personal experience. This was one of the first questions that I got asked by a lot of people when I returned from China. “So food must have been difficult for you! I have heard that they eat anything including dogs, cats and cockroaches!” Southern China is, let me say, highly experimental in their food habits. But it’s not so everywhere. The sad fact is, people only know about these quirks of China, rather than the other really beautiful aspects that the country has to offer.
Anyway, coming back to the book, the illustrations again add to the superb writing. Stereotypes and misconceptions are sarcastically brought out through the character of Chin-Kee, Danny’s cousin. His name itself, Chin-Kee, I think is a play on “Chinky” a derogatory (I feel) short form for “Chinese.” The brilliance of the book is in taking the two stories of the Monkey King and Jin in parallel chapters and then having them meet in the end through the third story. Initially, I had no clue as to why these two were being told separately. I couldn’t see the connection. But towards the end they met beautifully.
I hope to read more insightful and meaningful novels such as these. They made my day.
Verdict: Don't miss these books!
Rating: 5/5 for both