The foyer, protected by thick supporting walls, is also the safest place in the entire apartment complex, so the children don't remain alone very long. The neighbors soon join them there to tell stories and share food as they wait out the night.
There’s no point in beating around the bush: A GAME FOR SWALLOWS [Amazon | Kobo | The Book Depository] is the best book I’ve read so far in 2014. It’s also the most affecting memoir I’ve ever read, and one of my top comics of all time.
I want you to read it, please. Here's why.
Abirached is a master cartoonist. She’s keenly aware of the parallels between the panels of her comic and the barriers erected throughout war-torn Beirut, and she uses them to great effect. Each dividing line mimics either the shipping containers and barrels that break up the streets or the segmented apartment that becomes the children’s entire world. It’s impossible to ignore the sense of restricted space and calculated delineation here. The layout becomes much a character as any of the people who pass their time in the foyer.
The stark black and white colour scheme enhances the sense of containment, effectively placing the reader in darkness as inky as the night Abirached recalls.
The nighttime gathering itself serves as a framing story through which we examine the lives of each person who inhabits the apartment building. Abirached immerses us in their world. Her evocative use of line communicates each character’s emotions so beautifully that it’s possible to follow the action without so much as glancing at the dialogue tags. (Though why you’d want to cheat yourself out of the full experience, I have no idea.) The joy the children take from their neighbors’ presence stands in sharp contrast to the tension the adults feel as they congregate to entertain the children and keep one another company. No matter the face they put on for the little ones, it’s apparent that each of these people has lost a lot to the war and is keenly aware of how much more they could lose before the night is through.
I became so involved in their backstories, and so desperate to see them come through this violent night safely, that I forgot I was reading a book. I might as well have been in the room with them, listening to their pre-war stories and sharing their fear as the bombs dropped all around them.
That almost never happens to me, y'all.
If you have even the slightest interest in either comics or memoir, you must read this as soon as possible. It’s fabulous and heartfelt.