The first book I read created by the two brothers Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba was the mind-blowing Daytripper. Since then, I’ve been avidly on the lookout for their other graphic novels. A comic-geek friend who posted his stellar review of their latest graphic novel, which is an adaptation of Milton Hatoum’s prose novel, was kind enough to let me borrow his copy. Since I am scheduled to return this in three days’ time, I thought might as well post my review.
Based on the Work of: Milton Hatoum Graphic Novel Adaptation by: Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba
Published by: Dark Horse Books, 2015
Book photos taken by me.
The first thing that struck me about the book was its setting: the port city of Manaus which is said to be right on the riverbanks of the Amazon. Just seeing Moon and Ba’s black and white illustrations in the first few pages reminded me vividly of the tastes and the smells of my own childhood summers in a remote province in the Philippines. While Brazil is comparably more developed with wider, cleaner streets and beautiful buildings, the look of all the boats docked on the port on the page below was enough to bring forth a rush of nostalgia.
The story revolves around twin brothers Yaqub and Omar whose close affinity in their mother’s womb was matched by the enmity they felt for each other from childhood onwards. From birth, Omar, also known as the caçula or the youngest son (by a few minutes) demanded greater attention and care as he was more sickly of the two. The intimacy between Omar and his mother, Zana, was even more solidified when Yaqub was sent to Lebanon, after the twins’ 13th birthday.
An unspeakably violent incident between the two brothers, borne out of fierce jealousy, left Yaqub with a facial scar that he will carry with him to adulthood – and prompted Halim, their father to separate the brothers from each other for their own good. Naturally, it was a beautiful girl that was the cause of this rift:
I find it a little tongue-in-cheek to share a graphic novel about two brothers, seeing that our current reading theme is a celebration of fearless females and courageous women.
While it may be argued that it was this girl that drove the two brothers apart, I contend that their antipathy towards each other ran much deeper. It is the kind of hatred magnified by love, the absolute lack of freedom from each other despite physical distance (seeing the face of your worst enemy in the mirror must be one of the cruelest of fates), and inevitable self-loathing brought about by a deep, abiding hatred of the other. It’s a trap, a vicious cycle of vengeance and never-ending reprisal.
It was Yaqub who left home (after he was exiled to Lebanon) and made something of himself – a fact that Omar resented to the point of self-destruction to prove just how different he is from the brilliant Yaqub. While the older brother attained a commendable mastery in his field, the caçula made a career of being carefree, deliberately reckless and unapologetically indolent – the hammock reeking of his smell and the many women he brought to his family home.
While Zana remained indulgent and forgiving, the twins’ father, Halim, can not abide Omar’s shameless shiftlessness. Halim was not above unfavorably comparing Omar to the more successful twin, Yaqub who was diligent, meticulous, and intent on making something for himself. Omar was also given to ferocious loves, passions that drive out all sense and decorum – from the spell-binding dancer Dalia (paid off by his mother to leave him alone):
and Pau-Mulato, described as “a giantess like a tree with a rotund and tall ebony trunk. Nearly a pure African.”
Omar was nearly able to steer himself clear of his mother, Zana’s possessive clutches, thanks to this black tree of a woman, but he was undone by his self-absorption, his penchant for the easy life; and his weak, aimless spirit anchored only by the constant and comforting presence of his mother:
Which brings me to the strong, beautiful, decisive woman who eventually and unwittingly drove an island of discord between the twins that they seem to be each other’s antithesis in parallel universes; all this despite her best intentions, her desire to bring them together (ploys that backfire so remarkably it’s tragic), and her feral love for both sons.
I was awed by this graphic novel of such mammoth proportions. This is a complex family saga illuminated in stark, dramatic, blatant black and white illustrations that will drill a hole in any reader’s consciousness. If there is anyone who could perhaps do a graphic novel adaptation of any of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s or Isabel Allende’s novels, my money is on these two brothers. This labyrinthine story had that vibe to it. I had to pause in between reading to breathe as it has the power to consume the reader in all its staggering ferocity. This is a book that won’t be easily forgotten. Find it.