A Jew in Communist Prague

By J. Stephen Bolhafner
Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Sunday, September 14, 1997

A Jew in Communist Prague
Vittorio Giardino

Let me get my pet peeve out of the way first. This "graphic novel" is actually a first chapter of a longer work, and even if it were not, nothing 48 pages long has any right to the term "novel." However, "graphic novel" is the term the publishing industry uses for this type of material, so we're stuck with it.

That caveat aside, "A Jew in Communist Prague" by Vittorio Giardino (48 pages, NBM Publishing, $11.95, paper) is a good example of what can be accomplished with sequential art once we get over the expectation that comics are for superheroes and funny animals. There is nothing funny about this book. It is the story of a young boy, Jonas Finkel, growing up in communist Czechoslovakia. His father is arrested and disappears at the beginning of the book, and the lives of Jonas and his mother descend into a bureaucratic nightmare after that. Although the ostensible reason for their ostracism is their bourgeois background, the anti-Semitism Jonas runs into among his young friends is a clue to the feelings of their elders.

The story moves along with depressing firmness. Giardino's artwork is almost too beautiful for the grim tale he is telling. If there were more proof needed that the medium of comics can be utilized for realistic stories and serious art, here is one more example. I look forward to seeing the rest of this series.