Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
I have been trying to find the perfect timing to share this fabulous title. Then, I realized, might as well share it during my birthday – I am, after all, born brazen.
Written and Illustrated by Penelope Bagieu
Published by First Second (2018).
ISBN: 1626728690 (ISBN13: 9781626728691). Series: Les Culottées #1-2. Literary Award: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Graphic Novels & Comics (2018). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
With all the biographies that I have been reading for our current reading theme, I may already be suffering from memoir/biography-fatigue. However, Bagieu’s graphic novel shook my dazed sensibility, desensitized by way too many Marie Curie and Malala Yousafzai, or Jane Goodall and Ada Lovelace. This is, of course, not to say that these women do not have interesting life stories – they do; but their lives have been stretched by authors to the point of infinity.
Then comes Bagieu who fearlessly plunged headlong into the story of Nzinga, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba. As a reader, my eye is always sharply attuned to representation. I have been saying repeatedly, almost like a broken record, that practically all fairly-recent collection of biographies out there on legendary women are coming from the US, the UK, or Canada. I do not see my colour, my people, my tribe – represented in the narrative, if at all. Nor my profession: rarely are teachers or psychologists or social scientists celebrated.
And so, it is with such pleasant surprise, almost borderline-manic glee that I devoured the story of Las Mariposas from Ojo De Agua in the Dominican Republic. If we are searching for rebel ladies, these sisters got that covered. Never mind that they were hacked to death with a machete (see below):
… their deaths eventually led to a dictator being ousted. What a way to go.
Bagieu’s voice is facetious and pert but never jarring nor intrusive. It was just plain witty, fun, and oh-so-refreshing. I am sure if the women had their way, they would have said their dialogues the way that Bagieu has given voice to them here: with an insouciant air that is tinged with defiance and a casual disregard for how other people would perceive them.
Each woman has around three to four full-page spreads devoted to their lives in easy-to-read, visually-sequenced comic book format. Yet, each one is packed with sufficient detail, so intimately-drawn-out, that there were moments when I unexpectedly teared up in some of the stories. Brazen has this capacity to blindside even the most jaded reader. Take for instance the story of this obstinate lover, Josephina Van Gorkum from Roermond in the Southern Netherlands, and the way she loved her husband whose religion is different from hers.
It makes me want to visit their gravestone in the Netherlands, stat.
I especially loved the way Tove Jansson’s life was depicted here. Bagieu features what would have been considered an “LGBT issue” with a natural-ness that is enviable; never heavy-handed, just simple and matter-of-fact, as it should be.
I was also taken by the life story of social worker Leymah Gbowee from Liberia. The way that she has reinvented herself, picked herself up from the abuse that she has experienced, and used her own pain to reach out to the vulnerable and the helpless – was simply staggering in its enormity. This woman filled out the pages, and then some.
Admittedly, my favourite though is The Shaggs, rock stars and sisters from Fremont, New Hampshire. They were taken hostage by their father’s dream and made to become rock stars against their will. The expressive imagery, art, and dialogue made me laugh out loud at one in the morning. Bagieu is a master storyteller, this much is clear, and she loves what she does.
Among all the books that I have read for our theme, this is the one that has considerably impressed me. And if I were to make a brazen prediction, I am certain this will eventually turn out to be one of my best books read in 2019. Do yourself a favour and buy it, if you haven’t already!
#WomenReadWomen2019: Penelope Bagieu is from France.