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We Are On Our Own: A Memoir Hardcover – May 16, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This moving WWII memoir is the debut graphic novel from Katin, an animator for Disney and MTV. It tells the story of toddler Katin—here called Lisa—and her mother, Esther Levy, Hungarian Jews who must flee Nazi persecution. With her husband off fighting in the Hungarian army, Esther is forced to abandon all their belongings and take on the identity of a servant girl with a bastard child. She survives however she can—whether making alterations on the bloodstained uniforms of dead soldiers or surrendering her body to an adulterous German officer. Katin shows Esther's harrowing experiences with an objective eye, but her own experience of the time is the fragmented memory of a child; unable to understand the vast tragedy unfolding around her, she focuses on the loss of a pet dog. The story flashes forward to the '70s and even later to show the long-term effects on Katin and her family's faith. Katin's art is an impressionistic swirl; early scenes in sophisticated Budapest recall the elegance of Helen Hokinson, while the chaos of war is captured in dark, chaotic compositions reminiscent of Kathe Kollwitz. This book is a powerful reminder of the lingering price of survival. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* The burgeoning popularity of graphic novels has opened the door to new voices with compelling stories and artistic skills to match; for example, 63-year-old animator Katin, whose remarkable debut this is. It is a memoir recounting how she and her mother faked their deaths and fled Budapest after the Nazis occupied the city. With forged papers obtained from a black marketer, they escaped to the countryside in the guise of a servant girl and her illegitimate child. Katin relates their harrowing lives there and her mother's desperate search for her missing husband after the war. Brief passages set decades later reveal how Katin's traumatic experiences left her without any religious faith to pass on to her own child. The events she reports are powerful in themselves, and her sensitive, softly expressive drawings and straightforward storytelling, both reminiscent of Raymond Briggs in Ethel & Ernest (1999), about an English couple during the same period, are likewise effective in conveying violent wartime battles, her mother's emotionally distressing choices, and rare quiet interludes. Moreover, Katin's understatement makes the story all the more chilling and heartbreaking. This impressive book belongs in all serious graphic novel collections and is also a natural for Jewish studies. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
The book moved me to tears because it touches the raw pain and desperation both of the mother and of the bewildered child. Unlike many other Holocaust books, this one focuses not so much on the cruelty of the Nazis and their Hungarian helpers, but on the many kind people who took risks to help the two survive or just showed them kindness when it was most needed.
One of the central themes of the book is the young child's struggle to understand God in the context of the losses she suffers. Throughout her life, the protagonist yearned to believe in a God that she felt did not exist. It's an interesting theme and is handled in a nuanced manner.
This is a graphic novel, in cartoon strip format. I did not fall in love with the images. They lack the graphic power of "Maus." Spiegleman made the cartoon medium work for him, forever changing it. Katin's images seemed to me to be less interesting and challenging. They are carefully drawn and capture the mood, but what made the book work for me was the dialog, and that could have been captured as a narrative as well.
This book may not, in my opinion, be appropriate for the younger student because of sexual content. There are two situations of forced sex, and while they are not graphically depicted, the themes are rather adult. There is also discussion of an abortion. The older highschool student should be able to contextualize the material appropriately.
One such story is Marian Katin's graphic depiction of her mother and herself fleeing Budapest under Nazi rule in 1944. The very fact that they were Jewish as late as 1944 under Nazi rule gives one the sense that it took a long time for some Nazi occupied countries to be affected by the genocidical programs inherent to this regime.
Katin's story which tells of the Nazi terror and later the Soviet invasion shows the true plight of how people lost their homes and in many cases their very lives in the collateral damage of war. Katin's images and narrative show the true emotional and psychological scars of what transpired. The book shows a true and uncensored depiction of true events of a world gone mad. People acting under stress conditions show both their humanistic qualities to help mankind no matter what country they were from and on the other hand people acting selfishly and thinking only of themselves. This story is of people being people under the stress of a world at war caused by political minds seeking their own selfish ends.
This graphic story should be added to all the serious historical accumulation of World War II studies showing what this war was truly about. This book is actual history shown in the graphic genre which deserves our serious attention. Very well done and deserving a high five star rating.
This combines many viewpoints in different ways. At one level, it alternates between heartwrenching pencil drawings of dark time with a few sporadic scenes from decades after the war, drawn in cheery pastels. The recent images capture snapshots of a happy household, with a child of four or five starting to learn the traditions of Judaism. Wartime scenes show a similar child, torn from her life one step ahead of the antisemitic roundups. That child sees things no child should ever see, saved from the horror of knowing them only by having no way to understand what she has seen. We see them, though, and understand. We see a German officer forcing himself on the child's mother again and again, leaving her sobbing after each encounter - the child thinks she's sad to see him leave. Likewise, that wartime child can re-enact but not comprehend the bombing of the city around her, or the death of a devout Jew's faith in God.
It's never explicit, but most of the story seems to have a happy ending. That wartime child grows up, and becomes mother to the modern-time child that we see in the color pages. Maybe any evil, even one of that magnitude, can pass. It must not be forgotten, though, and we now live in crucial years for capturing those experiences. People who lived through that time as adults are passing away and, each time, another set of memories vanishes forever. Katin captures a few of those memories from her own parents and family, and from her own child's-eye experience. Some might find this painful to read - it describes a painful time. A solid core of optimism makes it bearable, though, as in so many other areas of life.