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November 12, 2009 Edition
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, several displaced Tsarist military officers separately formed schemes to retake Moscow and restore Russia to a monarchy. One of those was Baron Ungern-Sternberg, a vicious anti-Semite with enough charisma to bring a band of Japanese, Mongolians, White Russians, and Siberians together into an army of his own. He used them first to conquer Mongolia, where the Mongolians believed him the god of war incarnate, then to make an attempt on the Bolsheviks. As the Mongolian’s belief became the Baron’s mania, he transformed himself from an ascetic Russian officer to, at his final battle, a bare-chested (except for the strings of bones and charms hung around his neck) madman. No, Baron Ungern-Sternberg wasn’t a major player in world politics, but he foreshadowed the rise of others who changed the course of the world.
Small, a well-loved illustrator of children’s stories takes on the greatest child’s story, his own, in this powerful and nearly wordless memoir. The graphic novel format brings to life his early years in a household filled with eloquent body language: the movement of a fork indicating his mother’s foul mood, the sound of a punching bag effectively isolating his father from the family, his brother’s drums drowning out any other sound. David, too, developed his own silent language, that of illness, which his father, a physician, doctored himself, often with high doses of radiation. At 11, his mother’s friend notices a growth on his neck. At 14, his parents finally take him in for surgery. After a second surgery, David is cancer-free and voiceless. As his family falls further apart, David finds another wordless language: his art.
At 19, Greenberg narrowly survived a car accident with only a broken neck, which healed up nicely, or so everyone thought. Decades later, after suddenly developing increasingly debilitating headaches, doctors discovered that one vertebra was still fractured. Thus began several years of experimenting with surgery, drugs, and physical therapy in the quest to end the chronic pain that was ruining Greenberg’s family. In the end, it wasn’t the doctors who helped, so much as Greenberg’s own persistence, with her family’s support, in learning what her new body needed from her in order to allow her to live her life.
Tatsumi, the originator of a “realism” style of manga called gekiga, tells the story of his life in his own way. Born in 1937, Tatsumi grew up in post-war Japan when manga magazines were becoming popular and prolific . He and his younger brother competed with each other in entering “postcard manga” contests while in middle school. When he started winning nearly weekly, Tatsumi began to dream of creating real stories, but found that family finances dictated continuing with the contests. Eventually, mentored by Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy, he begins following his heart. Here, he quietly details his life, driven by the need to create, set in the changing cultural background of Japan’s modernization and the continuing mutability of manga.
Financier Johnson meets poet Ales Debeljak in New York, where he tries to convince her that nothing will ever happen between them. Two years of long-distance relationships later, Johnson meets him in his homeland of Slovenia as his bride. What was she thinking? She doesn’t speak the language or know how to make coffee the right way, and can’t get a work permit for the job she’s been offered. In this delightful memoir, Johnson writes about how she learned to navigate the many cultural, linguistic, and familial pitfalls that commonly trip up immigrants to any country to live comfortably and happily in her new land.