A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return
author : zeina abirached
pages : [hardcover] 188
When Zeina was born, the civil war in Lebanon had been going on for six years, so it’s just a normal part of life for her and her parents and her little brother. The city of Beirut is cut in two, separated by bricks and sandbags and threatened by snipers and shelling. East Beirut is for Christians, and West Beirut is for Muslims. When Zeina’s parents don’t return one afternoon from a visit to the other half of the city, and the bombing grows ever closer, the neighbors in her apartment house create a world indoors for Zeina and her brother where it’s comfy and safe, where they can share cooking lessons and games and gossip. Together they try to make it through a dramatic day in the one place they hoped they would always be safehome. Zeina Abirached, born into a Lebanese Christian family in 1981, has collected her childhood recollections of Beirut in a warm story about the strength of family and community.
This graphic novel was very interesting! It taught me about a point of history that I’ve honestly never heard of before and need to learn more about. It isn’t like history classes are fixating on places like Lebanon, even if those conflicts could certainly be learned from. I’m glad that there are writers out there telling these stories so that people like me can learn a little and then be intrigued enough to research it further.
I think what’s most interesting and confusing about the novel is that Zeina and her brother are presented as the main characters but they’re hardly in the book. They’re simply observers as the adults talk politics, worry about the coming bombs, and wonder why Zeina’s parents haven’t arrived home yet. While I really liked how most of the book was situated in the space of one day, giving a snapshot of life underneath this oppressive war, I think knowing more about the family dynamics would have been an improvement. It would have also been nice to see, perhaps in flashback, more about Zeina and her past as it relates to her perception of the terrible present.
The art was a little unconventional but I think that it worked for the book. It wasn’t my favorite style but I could certainly appreciate its presence in the narrative as it added a lot to the story.
I’d recommend this book to people who enjoy graphic memoir or are interested in historical accounts. It’s a quick read so even if you’re wanting to read something out of your typical genre, you could pick it up and sample it quickly.