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Marzi, a review

Marzi, a Memoir coverMarzi, a Memoir, by Marzena Sowa, illustrated by Sylvain Savoia, and translated by Anjali Singh, is a wonderful book. Marketed for adults, completely accessible for kids, the graphic novel tells the story of a girl growing up in Poland in the ten years before the communist regime’s eventual fall. The book is episodic, told in two- to six-page snippets, starting when Marzi is two and working its way to her teenage years.

We see Poland from her eyes—the long lines, stores without goods, playing in stairwells. We witness the confusion and fear of Chernobyl from the point of view of people under the radioactive cloud. We watch the rise of Solidarity, the quiet and not so quiet protests against communism—all from the point of view of a child mystified by adults who don’t explain, until, eventually, on the verge of puberty, she begins to understand and soak it all in like a sponge.

Marzi’s extended family is large, varied, and not of one mind. But we get to know them and their foibles. We learn how they outwitted a regime that thrived on people’s deprivations. We learn how people in the city and in the country saw the world.

And we also witness the very real growth of a child—her games, her loves, her fears, her complicated relationship with her parents, other children, and adults.

The comic format is surprisingly regular, yet brilliant: each page has six hand-drawn square panels which do not vary in size or placement. This regularity matches the world in which Marzi lives—one carefully circumscribed by her mother, the structured life of childhood, and the oppressive communist regime. This closed-in feeling, even outdoors, is enhanced by the palette—a combination of browns, beiges, and the occasional slightly-rusty red.

I also impressed by Savoia’s line work. Though Marzi is simply rendered, she lives in a world filled with interesting people, objects and places.

The story, at its heart, is life-affirming. Though set in an oppressive time, Sowa recounts her childhood with wit and compassion. I read through it, without wanting to put it down. I recommend the book without qualms for both kids and adults.

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