Loads of Learned Lumber

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Nina Bunjevac, _Fatherland: A Family History_

PERFECT TITLE. PERFECT subtitle, for that matter. This is a graphic memoir of Bunjevac's father, whom she would have barely known--she was born in Canada to Serbian parents, but her mother took her and her sister (leaving behind, at her husband's insistence, their son) back to Yugoslavia (as it then was) when Bunjevac was about two because her father was involved in a Serbian nationalist terrorist group. He died about two years after their departure in an accidental explosion while in the process of making a bomb.

Bunjevac's father is a territory accessible to her only through a kind of reconstruction, which gives us one dimension of the title, and her father's life came down to dying for the patria, which gives us another.

The subtitle, "A Family History," is just as fitting, since her father's selfhood was governed by an intersection of the family he happened to have been born into and the country he happened to have been born into--both configured by dislocation, coercion, broken faith, and divided loyalties. Peter Bunjevac's was a life shaped by its grievances (father's alcoholism, mother's early death), and the Serbs were, in those years, a people shaped by their grievances. Not that the book offers excuses or apologies--it seems mainly an attempt to understand.

There is something of Crumb in the drawing here--the thick peasant bodies that seem designed for enduring misery and cruelty--and in the inking--the infinitity of textures created by cross-hatching and webs of fine dots. Crumb would likely never attempt the chronological gymnastics of Bunjevac's narrative, though, which starts in 2012, jumps back to 1975 and Bunjevac's mother's decision to leave, then to 1977 and the news of her father's death, then back to 2012, then all the way back to Yugoslavia in the 1930s and her father's boyhood, eventually looping back to 1975 and 1977...as with Bechdel's Fun Home, though, there is something about the form (the repeating of panels, for instance, but newly contextualized by additional information) that permits extensive re-configuration of narrative time without loss of clarity.

Been on a bit of a graphic binge lately.  Blame Scott McCloud and Best American Comics of 2014.

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