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The One Hundred Nights of Hero: A Graphic Novel Hardcover – December 6, 2016
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"Greenberg's art perfectly suits the stories she's telling and the tone she's telling them in. Her rough line work is reminiscent of Kate Beaton'st Hark! A Vagrant and Emily Carroll's Through the Woods, and lends the stories, and their world, a folkloric charm."--Entertainment Weekly
"You've never encountered a gathering of fables as funny and Sapphic as this graphic novel."--O, the Oprah Magazine
"Greenberg is a staunch believer in the power of stories...readers get sucked into each one she tells. Highly recommended for adult readers, especially those who enjoy mythology and fable."--Library Journal (starred review)
"Greenberg combines elements from fairy tales, children's books, and folklore from around the world to create an original but teasingly familiar mythos... Above all, it's a book about the power of storytelling... Greenberg's primitive woodcut-style illustrations suggest folk art from another planet."--Publishers Weekly, (starred review)
"Wry and wise...sure to become a feminist classic.... A cry against oppression, a love letter to the human need for stories, a celebration of the many bonds between women, The One Hundred Nights of Hero will leave readers wishing Greenberg had written 1,000 nights instead."--Shelf Awareness
"Enchanting.... Greenberg's artwork is whimsical, and her plots reference countless fables. But there's also real darkness, and the stories speak movingly of the desperation of a narrow, patriarchal world in which 'happily ever after' often translates as forced marriage to a strange man."--The Guardian
Praise for The Encyclopedia of Early Earth
One of Time's Top 10 Fiction Books of 2013
One of National Public Radio's Great Reads of 2013
One of Slate's Best Books of 2013
One of Amazon's Top Ten Books of December 2013
A Top Ten Graphic Novel of 2013, Booklist.
"It's a book about many things--love, snow, God, poisoned sausages...but mostly it's a celebration of storytelling itself. Strange and wry and funny and beautifully drawn." ---Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
"Greenberg speaks of storytellers, but she's a great storyteller hself, and it's easy to be pulled into the worlds that she writes, housed neatly by tight drawings in a style that is bright enough to bring these worlds to life, and detached enough to feel a little otherworldly." ---Kate Beaton, author of Hark! A Vagrant
"The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is a delightful accordian of a book. This graphic novel casts a spell like that of Scheherazade--when you sit down with it, prepare to stay until the last page." ---Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child
"A loving homage to storytelling itself...Sewing her own sly humor, Greenberg deeply immerses readers in the themes and lessons of world mythology...Just as evocative is her art, which uses simple, childlike illustrations to channel the power of ancient cave paintings and archetypal images from our own imaginations. A unique, compelling standout." -- Jesse Karp, Booklist
"This little gem of a graphic novel is... Part storybook, part allegory, part meditation on the need for mankind to tell stories, the book manages to encompass all of existence without ever feeling too big for its britches. Never has a story about the primordial world felt so cozy." - A.V. Club
About the Author
Isabel Greenberg is a writer and illustrator who lives and works in North London. She studied illustration at the University of Brighton in 2010, and has worked for NoBrow Press, Seven Stories Press, and Solipsistic Pop. She is the winner of the 2011 Observer/Cape Graphic Short Story Prize.
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They luxuriated sinfully in that most beautiful of all things: The written word.
All those stories you have told, all those wonderful stories…
They are nothing to OUR STORY. People will tell it in years to come…
And they will say, that was a story about Love.
And about two brave girls who wouldn’t take s*** from anyone.
Lesson: Men are false. And they can get away with it.
Also, don’t murder your sister, even by accident. Sisters are important.
Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, in a land called Early Earth, there lived two star-crossed lovers: Cherry, a fair and lovely young woman from the Empire of Migdal Bavel, and her maid, Hero.
Despite her vaguely masculine name, Hero was a young woman as well – and a servant and runaway, at that – both conditions which conspired against their love. Cherry’s father insisted she marry a man who could provide for her; and so, after dodging his demands for one blissful summer (spent in the arms of Hero, of course), Cherry finally acquiesced. Luckily, Hero was able to accompany Cherry to the castle of her new husband, Jerome, where she stayed on as Cherry’s maid – and her secret lover. Like many of the men in Migdal Bavel, Jerome was a rather dim-witted and arrogant misogynist, you see, so Hero and Cherry were able to outwit him with minimal effort.
And then one day Jerome made a foolish bet with his friend Manfred, a man a little less stupid but a whole lot crueler than himself. If Manfred could seduce his ‘obedient and faithful’ (*snort!*) wife Cherry, then Manfred would win Jerome’s castle. If not, Manfred’s castle would become Jerome’s. Jerome would feign a business trip, giving Manfred a full one hundred days to execute his fiendish plot.
Being an amateur eavesdropper, Hero overheard the men’s conversation and tipped her lover off. Knowing that Manfred would take Cherry’s maidenhood by force if necessary (read: rape), the women hatched their own plan to keep Manfred at bay: with stories. For Hero is a gifted and cunning storyteller who hails from a long line of gifted and cunning female storytellers.
So for one hundred nights, Hero enthralls Manfred – and their guards, and indeed all of Migdal Bavel – with tales of madness, lust, deception, bravery, fealty, and ingenuity. Stories about sisters, fathers and daughters, kings and their subjects, men and women and moons and lovers. Stories of how the world came to be, and how it was corrupted: by a daughter named Kiddo and her father, the god Bird Man. But little does Hero know that her and Cherry’s story will prove the most epic and revolutionary of them all.
THE ONE HUNDRED NIGHTS OF HERO is simply breathtaking. Honestly, it just might be the most beautiful and moving graphic novel I’ve ever read. I love fairy tell retellings, and we’re treated to several rather lovely ones, thanks to Hero. But THE ONE HUNDRED NIGHTS OF HERO is so much more than this: there are stories within stories within stories, and by the book’s end, they all converge in a way that feels both masterful and magical. Much like Hero, Isabel Greenberg has the gift of gab, as Manfred would say. She also has a sly and sometimes dark sense of humor, which adds a little feminist levity to a story that can be grim and depressing at times.
The artwork is lovely, with bold graphics (that kind of brought to mind KILL BILL, if I’m being honest) and punches of color to emphasize a point. It feels almost primitive, like the artwork of early h. sapiens – a few steps up from cave art, maybe. Rough and angular but also beautiful, in its own way. It fits well with the “Early Earth” setting.
Hero and Cherry’s love forms the heart of the story. In a society that’s deeply homophobic and rooted in misogyny (some of the funniest/saddest moments involve women being persecuted and ultimately executed for reading, writing, witchcraft, and general “sassiness”), there’s nothing worse than a smart and opinionated woman – except two smart and opinionated women who love each other, and have no need of men. Hero and Cherry’s fate was sealed from the start; in a world where women just can’t win, Jerome and Manfred’s wager was a darned-if-you-do, darned-if-you-don’t Catch-22 situation. (Think about ye ole swimming test for witches. Strip and bind a woman and toss her in the water. If she floats, she’s a witch and must be executed. If she drowns, she’s declared innocent. Um, thanks?)
Yet their love – and the great love of The Sisterhood of Secret Storytellers, or The Sisterhood of Women Who Won’t Take S*** from Anyone, or whatever you want to call it – endures. No, it does more than that: it transcends. It shines immortal, just like the three moons and the five dancing stones of Hero’s fairy tales.
But the story’s fist – the one that ultimately smashes the patriarchy of Migdal Bavel – lies in the power of storytelling. THE ONE HUNDRED NIGHTS OF HERO is nothing if not a love letter: to the tellers of stories, no matter what form they take (authors, poets, songwriters, painters, playwrights, sculptors, you name it!), and the adoring audiences who carry their tales with them, wherever they go, thus becoming storytellers in their own right. A well-crafted story has the power to inspire compassion and empathy; to topple the existing social order, challenge the victor’s version of history, and make the world a better place. Seeing yourself in a story is to see yourself, your very existence, validated; to see a different way of walking around in the world. The girls and women of Migdal Bavel? Of Little Rock, Arkansas and Chingola, Zambia and Jēkabpils, Latvia? They need that. We all do.
Some of my most cherished stories remind me of the one line in the one story I cherish above all others: the ghost’s entreaty to Mary, upon her escape from the world of the dead, to “Tell them stories.” Storytelling is a nothing short of a superpower – and it’s one that Hero wields with grace and skill.
Ditto: Isabel Greenberg. THE ONE HUNDRED NIGHTS OF HERO is a story that we need now more than ever; a story that I’ll return to time and again in the next few years, and probably beyond. A story for the ages, as they say.
** Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher. **
As always, Greenberg's art is bold, raw, and magical. Plot-wise, she skillfully succeeds in telling a story that is wondrous and whimsical, yet also dark and poignant. A gem that I will read again and again.
As far as the book itself goes - it was absolutely beautiful - great illustrations and so well written. I'll be reading this story with my children one day.
The One Hundred Nights of Hero opens with a bet between two men. One complains that he can never find a woman who meets his criteria, the most important of which is that she will be chaste and loyal. His friend disagrees. He knows exactly such a woman – his wife Cherry. And so the bet is formed. The husband will leave for one hundred nights, giving his friend the opportunity to try and seduce Cherry. And if seduction fails, he may very well turn to more brutal methods.
Unbeknownst to the two men, our heroine Cherry is in love with her maid, Hero. And the two women hatch a scheme to save themselves, one that’s straight out of The Arabian Nights: they will tell Cherry’s unwanted suitor a series of stories to keep him at bay. And thus is the frame for our collection born.
Like Encyclopedia of Early Earth, this graphic novel has a focus on the power of storytelling. But unlike its predecessor, The One Hundred Nights of Hero puts women and the love between women at the front and center.
“We shall tell all the stories that are never told. Stories about bad husbands and murderous wives and mad gods and mothers and heroes and darkness and friends and sisters and lovers… Yes! And above all… Stories about brave women who don’t take shit from anyone.”
Hero and Cherry are the heroines of our frame story, but their romantic love isn’t the only sort of love portrayed in The One Hundred Nights of Hero. Over and over again, the idea of sisterly love appears in the narrative. Whether it’s a case of sisterly love being the real true love as in the first story or when it’s sisters gone wrong, as in the retelling of “Twa Sisters.” As The One Hundred Nights of Hero says, “Sisters are important.”
Some of the stories Hero tells are tales original to this graphic novel, such as the very first story, in which five sisters learn the forbidden art of reading. Other stories are more familiar. “Twa Sisters” is retold in a relatively straight forward manner that doesn’t veer too far from the original. On the other hand, there was a much more original take on “Twelve Dancing Princesses.”
“So they were Gods, but also they were a family, because this story is all about that. About humans and human-ness. Fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters. Love and betrayal and loyalty and madness. Lovers and heroes and the passing of time and all those marvelous baffling things… those things that make us human.”
I find it hard to communicate all my feelings for this book. As Hero and Cherry’s time drew to a close, I feared for them more and more. The ending made me unexpectedly emotional (in a good way). This book is beautiful in so many ways. From the themes and prose to the art itself. I adored how Greenberg used strong blacks and whites with a limited color palette – it really fit the tone of the stories she was telling.
There’s darkness to this graphic novel, but ultimately it’s about sassy women smashing the patriarchy. Is it any surprise that I loved this book more than I ever expected? It is perfectly deserving of my first five star rating for 2017.