WE ARE ON OUR OWN by Miriam Katin


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Mother and daughter go on the run in Nazi-occupied Hungary, then endure the Russian occupation.

It would be difficult to conceive of Katin’s debut as anything but a graphic novel, given the strength of its visuals, but a straight-text approach might have been wiser. Her story is obviously dramatic. In Budapest circa 1944, when Miriam is a young girl, her mother, Esther, decides to avoid the impending Nazi roundup of Jews by faking their deaths and escaping to the countryside with forged papers. But things hardly improve outside the city, where villagers treat them no better in their new identities, taking their dark features to mean they’re gypsies. To make matters worse, a Nazi officer quickly figures out the Katins’ secret and uses it as a means of prying sexual favors from Esther. Hard circumstances turn desperate once the Red Army sweeps through, exhibiting the morals of drunken Vikings; Esther joins the starving, freezing villagers as they take clothes off soldiers’ corpses. She does her best to conceal all these horrific events from little Miriam, though the best she can manage is to induce a sort of baffled confusion. Katin’s episodic approach conveys events with an admirable economy at times, but often just hurries the reader through situations that could have used more explanation or context. The artwork’s smeared, sketchy quality contributes to this sense of undue haste. It may be that Katin chose the graphic form because of her background (she was a graphic artist in Israel and a background designer for Disney and MTV) rather than because it was the best vehicle for her story. However, the author’s pain is difficult to ignore, regardless of the limitations of her approach and her sometimes melodramatic tone.

A problematic but powerful Holocaust survival memoir.

Pub Date: May 30th, 2006
ISBN: 1-896597-20-3
Page count: 136pp
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2006