The second installment of Jean-David Morvan and Séverine Tréfouël’s Irena: Children of the Ghetto, a biographical graphic novel about Irena Sendlerowa, a woman who saved thousands of young Jewish lives by smuggling them away to safety is a hard read just as the first was. In a way, book two is almost more difficult to read at times due to how graphic the atrocities become. Stakes are higher in this novel as you wait for Irena to escape the prison she was tortured in by the climax of book one. But it would be hard to provide an accurate portrayal of this remarkable woman’s life without also highlighting the many unjust hardships she faced as a result of her selfless acts of heroism.
Right where we left off.
Book two begins from the perspective of a woman recalling what her life was like when she realized she was one of the smuggled children. Having grown up in what basically equated to a foster family, one day this young girl meets a stranger and learns that her parents aren’t really her parents and she has to be smuggled out of Poland in order to survive. She tells this story to her daughter, recounting the journey and how she ended up meeting the man who would be her husband along the way. And then the story comes full circle back to relate to the woman who made it all possible.
I really loved this aspect of storytelling, especially appreciating how everything would transition from present to past, and then back again over and over. It was honestly a great way to juxtapose the horror and despair of what people had to go through and a lighter, happy celebration of the woman who made survival possible for so many.
I don’t know how to feel about a brief moment in which Israel and Palestine are referred to as “our land.” There’s a lot of history there that I will readily admit I need to do more reading on, but the fact of the matter is that the conflict currently existing in that area directly as a result of this migration is one that has unreasonably villainized the Palestinians. This is not an area where I really feel I have the words to delve into why this was an issue for me, but I will admit that I did feel extremely uncomfortable with the way it was presented.
I think I’ll always really appreciate these books as a whole. While they are definitely difficult reads, the series is one of the best introductions to a history I was aware of but did not know on a personal level. There’s a certain connection that you can build with the story and the characters, especially knowing that the events truly happened.
Admittedly, I feel as though the odd moments in which ghosts appear kind of take away from the story as a whole. But, then I’ll grant that this book is kind of meant as an introduction for younger readers. In that sense, I can make some concessions in my feelings on the matter.
All in all, this series is one that I deeply appreciate and I will keep a lookout for the third book when it comes.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.