Everydays cannot be insignificant enough, traumas cannot be big enough – could be the motto of the six books that I read last week. Here comes the second set. (You can find the first one here.)
4) Frederik Peeters: Blue Pills. A Positive Love Story
This graphic narrative is about the biggest things and about the most insignificant ones at the same time. This autobiographical memoir is about melancholic Peeters’s love for and relationship with full-of-life Cati, who reveals even before their relationship could have started that she has HIV and that her 2-year-old son is also infected. Things are sometimes very complicated both on the physical and the emotional levels, but somehow there is such a deep love and affection between these two people that cannot be stopped by any obstacles. And of course you should not imagine any big obstacles, evil characters or big tasks to overcome: nope, here we have a sequence of everydays, everydays that are organized by HIV.
The most difficult parts to read (for me at least) were the parts when the child’s condition got worse, when he asked his naive questions, the way he accepted the care of the adults. Parallel to this Cati’s limbo between her love of life and feelings of guilt are represented with a lot of care, sympathy, understanding and affection.
I cannot really understand how Peeters could create abstract, deep, metaphorical scenes of deeply philosophical topics without getting tedious. The style is magnificent, and so is the rhythm. Towards the end, when things seem to be falling apart, there is a long scene when he is riding on a mammoth’s back and they talk about life and death (what else could you be talking about with an extinct species?) And that scene is dynamic, interesting, revealing and relevant. It is not overburdened by thought. Of course you need Peeters’s amazing art for that, too, but what I want to say that on a more deeper level than word and image this comic has a depth to it that I keep on marveling at.
2) Miriam Engelberg: Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person
You cannot but love this memoir. You laugh out laud at her sense of humor, her way of seeing things – her illness, other people without cancer, and fellow sufferers. Yet from the very first moment on your heart breaks – and keeps on breaking – as you are told in the introduction that Miriam died. More precisely we read that “she is survived by her husband and son.” And while I was reading this book a person I know died of cancer. So there is a very very delicate balance here that has to be maintained. The topic has to be approached honestly but without overburdening the readers with grief; with showing the difficulties but without burying the readers under them. And Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person does exactly that. The book was written and drawn as a form of therapy as well as with the intention of helping other people who have cancer to cope with the illness, their moods, their feeling lost, their conflicting thoughts about the world.
And Miriam has an amazing sense of humor! She used to be a stand-up comedian, and I imagine her to be hilarious. Yet she cannot draw at all. This is part of the beauty of this comic. The people look soo helplessly amateurish, the panels are not dynamic, not artistic, not inventive. Yet the story is. The rhythm is perfect. The text is flawless. Miriam Engelberg is one of the great storytellers, and I am soo grateful for her for telling us her story of therapy, family, hope, work, life. I hope it helped her remain sane.
This was Miriam Engelberg’s blog. http://miriamengelberg.livejournal.com/
This is a very cleverly made book, no wonder Spiegelman felt that its creation took ages. Good work takes time. As I have read tons of secondary literature on this book, on the materiality that it reintroduces via its format, or on creating an American comics history that gets reinterpreted in the light of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I have no intention of writing about it in detail. Reading too much corrupts your thoughts. Don’t read, folks.
Or maybe read the book itself!