A finely rendered showcase for a classic tale.

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THE GOOD EARTH

Illustrator Bertozzi (Becoming Andy Warhol, 2016, etc.) adapts Buck’s (The Eternal Wonder, 2013, etc.) Pulitzer Prize–winning novel of a man’s fluctuating fortunes and existential crises in early-20th-century China.

For years, farmer Wang Lung has worked the soil, pulling forth bountiful harvests, and now the sale of his excess crops has funded a fateful purchase: a slave from the great house in town to be his wife. O-lan quickly proves invaluable: cooking fancy cakes like those she served to the local lord and lady, sewing clothes, and working the fields alongside her husband, stopping only to bear children. O-lan’s steady hand helps during high times, when Wang Lung purchases land from the great house, and during low, when famine drives the family south to a big city where they live as beggars and Wang Lung runs a rickshaw. On the streets, Wang Lung witnesses class tensions that boil over into a riot—during which O-lan manages to multiply their fortune. Once settled back on the land and having grown prosperous, the family faces the struggles of the nouveau riche: a son ashamed of their bumpkin roots, Wang Lung's discontent with his plebeian wife driving him to take a concubine, fears of good fortune being snatched away by jealous spirits (or family members). The half-dozen or so borderless panels per page propel the story along, flowing in brief scenes of survival, domesticity, society, and legacy. Bertozzi beautifully distills Buck’s text into poignant snippets, zeroing in on details such as the anguished clench of O-lan’s fingers as she bears the news that Wang Lung is pursuing another woman. The black-on-gray chiaroscuro lends the work an engraved look, perfectly capturing the story’s timeless subject matter while also underscoring the antiquity of the depicted world, where women are slaves. Even within this foreign worldview, Buck and Bertozzi convey rich moral complexity and universal concerns.

A finely rendered showcase for a classic tale.

Pub Date: July 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3276-6

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

BERLIN

BOOK ONE

This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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