Tuesday , May 21 2024
We Are On Our Own Miriam Katin

Graphic Novel Review: ‘We Are On Our Own’ by Miriam Katin from Drawn+Quarterly

We Are On Our Own

We Are On Our Own, a memoir by Miriam Katin from Drawn and Quarterly presents the true story of Katin’s escape from Axis-occupied Hungary in World War II. Like many other tales of fleeing a totalitarian regime, the story is filled with dramatic turns, heart-wrenching loss, desperate efforts, and glimmers of hope in the kindness of others. Katin’s experience is unique in her passage as a child, not understanding the cruelty around her. She presents much of her mother’s perspective, too, showing what must be done to keep herself and her child alive. The autobiography serves not only to present their story but also to show the foundation of Katin’s struggles to believe in a God who would allow such a world to exist.

The story of We Are On Our Own carries primarily from 1944 Budapest, distinguished as black and white from Katin in 1968, safe in New York with a child of her own shown in colors so brilliant and warm that they are nearly blinding compared with the dark past. It begins quietly, as horrors do, with Katin’s mother having coffee with a friend while young Miriam plays with their dog.

Restrictions are increasing, and Katin’s mother must explain to Miriam that they are no longer allowed to own pets because they are Jewish. They soon lose their apartment also and must rely on smugglers to slip into the countryside disguised as peasants. From there, they endure unimaginable hardships both before and after the war as Katin’s father searches desperately to find them.

Loss of Faith

Throughout We Are On Our Own, Katin explores her own belief in a higher power through the many influences in her life. She shows her mother’s deep commitment with prayer and reading the Torah as well as her father’s shattered beliefs, saying upon their reunion “God has nothing to do with any of this… how can you give thanks to a deadly sky?” Katin gives a moment as well in 1968 with her husband’s unquestioned faith encouraging their son to go to Hebrew school, to which she replies to herself with “God, he turned out to be residing in a wine barrel,” harkening to the pseudo-theological folk belief of the vineyard owner who helped them during their escape, trading safety for work in the harvest. Katin’s exploration is a deep and diverse one to explain her own struggle with theism, writing “And God said: let there be light, and there was light…and it was good. And then one day, God replaced the light with the darkness.”

Katin’s art in We Are On Our Own is as beautiful and haunting as the story. The use of black and white not only brings the historical atmosphere but also provides space for the deep shadows in shading. Katin’s lines are bold and harsh, making for a messy world just as ours is. Yet every line is placed expertly so they give fine details and elegant portraits for a story to reread again and again as a memory never to be forgotten.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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