In Memoirs of a Book Thief Alessandro Tota and Pierre Van Hove explore the idea of existentialism in 1950s Paris through disillusioned law student Daniel Brodin.
Writer: Alessandro Tota
Artist: Pierre Van Hove
Translated by: Edward Gauvin
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Brodin lives with his communist uncle in Paris having moved up from les provinces to study. He buries himself in poetry to escape a life he is no longer interested in. For thrills Brodin steals books and a failed robbery lands him at the feet of a pair of Café Sully regulars who become his friends.
His new group of friends combines unemployment with protest and we follow their adventures across Paris and beyond. Van Hove does an excellent job of capturing Paris in the early fifties with his intricate drawing.
What is particularly special is how he allows the detailed drawings of Paris blend into the background whilst maintaining the principle focus on the novels’ protagonists. He also allows the reader to zoom in like a television camera for more intimate or emotional scenes by fading out any background detail. This leaves the reader completely immersed in Tota’s flowing story.
Of particular interest is the mysterious Gérard Depardieu lookalike, Jean Michel. The Dépardieu double is one of a number of references to French contemporary icons. Jean-Paul Sartre is clearly an influence on the narrative as the characters explore their own personalities and roles within the society in which they live. The black and white colouring accentuates this, leaving the reader to consider the tone and colour of the story for themselves.
Brodin longs for stardom in the beginning but through the influence of his friends, lead by Gilles – a wannabe philosopher and general layabout – Brodin sees the rise and fall of fame before his seemingly settled life starts to unravel.
Alcohol provides a heavy backdrop to the gang’s adventures. It makes you wonder if the author is questioning whether alcohol can lead people to enlightenment or failure. This is reflected in Van Hove’s drawing. The bar scenes portray the characters in dark places with ragged faces. Day-time acts are clearer and have brighter, happier facial expressions.
As Tota develops the story he juxtaposes sobriety and drunkenness. Through this thoroughly enjoyable personal adventure we see the dilemma our protagonist Daniel Brodin faces. He is torn between the path his family wants him to take and the life his imagination wants him to live.
Memoirs of a Book Thief consists of a great backdrop drawn by Van Hove which makes you travel back through time. Tota completes Van Hove’s scenery with a great array of principle characters. This graphic novel is full of twists and turns. It will have you guessing as to which choice Brodin will make, luring you in and keeping you right on the edge of your seat until the end.