Review by Jonathan Hill
America and the media we consume is incredibly sterilized, especially to the plight of the people who aren’t white. We’re led to believe that despite harrowing circumstances, through determination and strength of spirit, we’ll be delivered the happy ending. Everything will work out in the end.
Burmese Moons offers no such peace.
It’s a difficult book. Not because it’s hard to understand it. It wasn’t too obtuse or too dense. It’s because of the content matter. It’s an unending wave of brutality and horror crashing hard against the main character, Thazama, as the story follows his life as a young boy in the Zomi jungle region of Burma during the 1988 Burmese revolution into adulthood. He continues to fight for the dignity of himself and his people against all odds.
Thazama’s journey of suffering at the hands of one despotic military regime to another as he bounces from country to country is painful to read. It seems like one horrible fate leading into another. There is no happy ending, there is no solace, only brief respites of humanity sprinkled throughout. At times it felt too much. But the point of the book isn’t to showcase the horrors of Thazama at the hands of others, but to show the perseverance of the human spirit in the face of those horrors. Writer Sophie Ansel reminds us that no matter what, we have a choice who we are going to be in the world. It’s important to remember too, that although Thazama and his story is fiction, there are many real people going through those same experiences facing them with the same courage.
The power of books and stories is that they help us connect to worlds so different from our own. And the power of comics is that it’s a visual medium and it’s able to bring those worlds to life in a way more vivid than words can. Sam Garcia’s art does that. It’s a perfect fit for the story. His rough, organic linework and bold, saturated colors enhance everything from the lush jungles of the Zomi region in the opening chapter to the harsh, brutal prisons of Malaysia later in the book.
The fact is, reading Burmese Moons hits you like a truck and leaves your heart aching for the people whose lives Thazama’s story represents; people whose suffering is real. It will make you feel uncomfortable, it will make you think, and it will make you question yourself and your place and the world around you. It will continue to haunt you well after you finish it. But if the people of Burma can face these hardships with their chins up, the least we can do to honor them is to read about their experiences and help share their stories.
Title: Lunes Birmanes
Author: Sophie Ansel (writer) & Sam Garcia (illustrator)
Title: Burmese Moons
Translator: Jeremy Melloul
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About the author and illustrator:
Sophie Ansel is a French writer, author and storyteller with a focus on human rights and environmental issues. She has been investigating and working on Burmese issues since 2005 and has created several stories related to Burma ( Books, TV, Graphic Novel).
Sam Garcia was born in Gavà, Spain in 1978. After inheriting his passion for indie comics from his father, Sam worked for 15 years as a graphic designer in the comic industry. Sam’s first book, “Bonjour Paris” (released by Spanish publisher Dibbuks), led him to take up cartooning full-time.
About the Translator:
Jeremy Melloul is a science-fiction and fantasy writer in Los Angeles, California. As a Third Culture Kid (see below), Jeremy grew up immersed in a confluence of cultures and was raised between France, Los Angeles, and Israel. He often struggled to reconcile these different worlds and the difficulties he faced in his home life. Whenever he needed to escape from reality he turned to stories. Follow him on Twitter.
Reviewer: Jonathan Hill
Jonathan Hill is an award-winning cartoonist, illustrator, and educator. His work has appeared in The Believer Magazine, Fantagraphics, Powell’s City of Books, and the Society of Illustrators. His graphic novel, Odessa, was a finalist for the 2021 PNBA Book Awards and won the 2021 Believer Book Award for Graphic Literature. He has a forthcoming graphic novel for middle readers from Walker Books in Fall 2022, Tales of a Seventh Grade Lizard Boy. Follow him on Twitter.
- Americus, First Second, 2011
- Science Comics: Wild Weather: Storms, Meteorology, and Climate, First Second 2019
- Odessa, Oni Press, 2020
Curator of the second #IntlYALitMonth at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative:
Linda Hoiseth is the high school librarian at the American School of Dubai and has previously worked at schools in the US, Japan, Kuwait (where she taught Jonathan Hill in 8th grade), Malaysia, Poland, Peru, Qatar, and India. She has a B.S. in English and Secondary Education, an M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction, and a graduate certificate in School Library Media. She’s currently a member of the ECIS Libraries Special Interest Group committee. She’s a fierce advocate for all students to have access to all the books. Follow her on Twitter.