I am an ambivalent reader of graphic novels. I’m of a generation that remembers when Superman was less muscled, and hadn’t yet died or been cloned. “Adult graphic novel” designated the rumored underground works about Fritz the cat. The amazing boom of the last couple decades of literary versions has led me to works such as Persepolis and Maus. Still, I’m not sure I have the critical equipment to get the most out of these works wedding image and text. Actually, it’s been the wordless versions of narratives (from the recently reissued Lynd Ward woodcut novels to Shaun Tan), which intrigue me most. Most graphic novels just read so darn fast.
Yet is there any other place on earth where word meets art in the context of religion/spirituality with greater heritage and pedigree than Italy? This Italian graphic novel has art by Mattotti and words by Piersanti from Bologna, who is a novelist and screenwriter.
The novel opens with a wordless picture of an overweight guy sitting up on the edge of his bed in the underwear he has slept in. Unshaven, with an untrimmed goatee and a mohawk that seems more born from the necessity of hair loss than style, the protagonist who speaks in first person—relating his tale—is clearly a man living on the margins of his society . . . revealed to be a 41-year-old alcoholic who is occasionally employed, living in a boarding house.
The book moves quickly to the dream vision he has had: called into the presence of a looming, cosmic, God-Child who promises the man that his suffering will soon be over, and that he is now to receive a sign of this promise—bleeding from a single wound in each palm without pain or infection. He rejects this ‘gift,’ which propels the protagonist out of his boarding house, where people have taken to leaving votive gifts of candles and flowers and requests for miracles. He tries first for a medical cure, which brings imposed psychiatric attention, then life as an ordinary person hiding his wounds unsuccessfully. He joins a circus, falls in love with a woman who accepts him for who he is, loses her in a flood. Eventually finds some rest and acceptance of his condition working in a convent, tending the dead for burial and the keeping up the cemetery.
His journey to acceptance involves some reading of hard-core medieval writings from saints who themselves had known the curse/blessing of God’s attention. Yet the reader gets the sense that this book is being written not for the person well-steeped in Christian faith, but instead is a modern-day exploration of ‘what-if,’ a fresh introduction to what an encounter with the Holy might be in our own day and time. If you know Fangraphics, you know they are not a religious publishing house; they would not be bringing out a book of dogma or evangelism.
For someone in the biz, this book is like cat-nip. Ah, the story of the one who did not ask to be chosen (OT figures such as Jeremiah, Job, Jonah), yet who by divine coercion encounters the holy and is transformed. Never mind that within the church-defined and controlled the stigmata has been given not to just hands, but feet and wounded side, and only to those holy enough to deserve the sign. This fellow is chosen, but he is not the figure of the exceptional.
For a reader who knows little or nothing about religious tradition outside the caricatures created through self-promoters of the strident and extreme, by those who abuse their faith and others under the cloak of religion, or by the media this story may very well intrigue, horrify, and maybe even move. It is not a doctrinaire work; it is a human one.
A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee. . .
The dislocation of individuals from the countries of their birth has long been a common theme in contemporary literature. These two short novels recently translated into English appear firmly rooted in this tradition of ex-pat literature, but their authors eschew. . .
In Melancholy, Hungarian author, critic, and art theorist László Földényi presents a panorama of more than two thousand years of Western historical and cultural perspectives on the human condition known as melancholia. In nine chapters, Földényi contrasts the hero worship. . .
Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by. . .
In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of. . .
Eliot Weinberger takes big strides across literary history in his genuinely breathtaking short work, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, tracking translations of a short ancient Chinese poem from the publication of Ezra Pound’s Cathay in 1915 to Gary. . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .