With a Man Booker list­ing and frank com­ing-of-age mem­oirs, it’s been a vin­tage year

The Guardian - Review - - Books Of The Year - James Smart

The pres­ence of a graphic novel on the Man Booker longlist for the first time was wel­come news this year, partly be­cause it chips away at genre as­sump­tions, but mostly be­cause the book in ques­tion was very good in­deed. Nick Dr­naso’s Sab­rina (Granta) ex­plores the shock, grief and con­spir­acy the­o­ries that swirl around a young woman’s dis­ap­pear­ance. That it tack­les big is­sues – fake news, hap­pi­ness and the state of Amer­ica – may have helped to hook the judges. But what stays with the reader is Dr­naso’s eerie por­trait of the ri­tu­als of ev­ery­day life, the muted colours of his sim­ple pan­els build­ing into a sub­ur­ban epic in which dark themes rear up, like some great Love­craftian beast, and break through mod­ern life’s ba­nal sur­face.

And Sab­rina was just the tip of the ice­berg in a fine year for the graphic novel. In the won­der­ful Heimat (Par­tic­u­lar), an­ces­tral guilt prompts Ger­man-Amer­i­can Nora Krug to dig deep into her fam­ily his­tory. Was her grand­fa­ther a Nazi, or a hero who hid a Jewish friend from party thugs? What if he was both? Her jour­ney takes her to south­ern Ger­many, via black-and-white pho­tos, hand­writ­ten notes and of­fi­cial doc­u­ments. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing ac­count that’s dou­bly ef­fec­tive be­cause it’s so fraught and hon­est – you feel as though you’re in the room with Krug as she turns the pages of files about col­lu­sion or looks into the eyes of a rel­a­tive.

Ja­son Lutes goes back a cou­ple of decades fur­ther in his Weimar Re­pub­lic tril­ogy, Berlin, which reaches its con­clu­sion with City of Light (Drawn & Quar­terly). Lutes cov­ers the cabaret scene, the strug­gles of the press and ri­ots as the Nazis rise, and lives that seemed full of pos­si­bil­ity are twisted by the grasping arms of the state. There are plenty of rich con­trasts here, from the Tintin- ish scenes of rough-and-tum­ble street life to the great boule­vards and art deco lines of the city. With its fi­nal, show-stop­ping pan­els, the Berlin tril­ogy feels like a mod­ern clas­sic.

Nei­ther of these fine works will have the im­pact of a jour­nal writ­ten by a young Jewish girl al­most 80 years ago. Anne Frank’s di­aries are skil­fully dis­tilled, with mov­ing and thought­ful il­lus­tra­tions, by David A de­tail from by Nick Hayes

The Drunken Sailor

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