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The Wolf of Baghdad: Memoir of a Lost Land

by Carol Isaacs
2020 / 208 pages

For more than 2,000 years, Jews have lived in Baghdad and as late as the 1940s a third of the city’s population was Jewish. But within a decade most of Iraq’s 150,000 Jews had fled the country, such that in 2016 there may have been only 5 Jews left in Baghdad.

In this impactful graphic novel, Carol Isaacs has a woman walking through the deserted streets of the city, but seeing ghosts of a sort. These aren’t the dead though, but memories of how life used to be – as she wanders we see a shadow of what used to be, with see-though Jews and others living side by side as they once did. The presentation is all the more powerful for how Isaacs pairs wordless comic pages – the woman walking with no one to talk to – with a full page highlighting a quote from one of the exiles, also recalling what once was.

This is not a book for the reluctant reader, as it needs to be pondered, not flipped through. But for a history lover, this will be powerful.

There are no cautions. I did wonder if a Jewish history might present a Jewish understanding of God, but the Jewish religion hardly comes up.

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Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Freiheit! The White Rose graphic novel

by Andrea Grosso Ciponte 110 pages / 2020 I grew up reading stories about the Dutch resistance during World War II, and it was only years later that I realized the Germans had their own committed dissenters. Freiheit! is the story of one such group, "The White Rose." These university students wrote and distributed pamphlets urging Germans to rise up and actively resist their government. The problem, they said, was not that everyone supported Hitler, but that too few opposed him – too many were being silent bystanders. "We are your guilty conscience" their pamphlets declared, as the group tried to prod their fellow Germans to oppose Hitler, not just in thought, but in deed. The White Rose story doesn't have the happy ending we'd want: within a year the group's leaders - all of them 25 or younger - were caught and executed by the Gestapo. But their bravery inspired others, and when the Allies got a hold of their pamphlets they ended up using quotes from the final one in a flyer, and dropped five million copies of it as leaflets over Germany. Today that willingness to stand up to wicked leaders, no matter the cost, continues to inspire. That's the appeal of this graphic novel – this is good food for our own young men and women. The White Rose's pamphlets, translated and printed in the back of this graphic novel, make it clear that there were some Christian underpinnings to what they were doing. Andrea Grosso Giponte's art style is effective, and unlike anything I've seen before, at times photo-like, but of the low-resolution newspaper sort, and with the sort of angles and shadows that made me feel like I was watching an artsy spy movie. Check out the book trailer below to see what I mean. The story is a bit jumpy, so this isn't a graphic novel for pre-teens. It requires some work from the reader because the author isn't holding our hand, explaining every last thing. He expects us to think through and fill in what must have happened between those jumps. It is worth the effort. I'd recommend this for 16 and up, not because of any content cautions, but only because of the effort it requires. If Freiheit! is of interest, you may also enjoy The Faithful Spy, about German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a plot to kill Hitler. ...