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Written and Illustrated by Leila Abdelrazaq
Just World Books, 2015, 128 pp.
Ahmad was raised in Baddawi, a refugee camp in North Lebanon, and struggles to find his sense of place and his own identity while growing up in a place he cannot call home. This story is just one of the many thousands of stories that refugee children born in Palestine have to tell. Forced to leave their homeland after the war in 1948 that established the state of Israel, Ahmad’s family lives in the “in-between” being invisible and being recognized, or worse yet, demonized because of their nationality.
This graphic novel is inspired by the experiences and stories that the author’s father shared about his life in the Baddawi refugee camp. Author Leila Abdelrazaq, in an effort to understand her father’s childhood during the 1960s and ’70s, shares her father’s story through a young protagonist who witnesses his world crumbling around him. The black and white linear visuals are reinforced by written words that recreate Ahmad’s path through the region’s appalling ambiguity; the result is a life without tangible roots or home. Abdelrazaq’s visuals are reminiscent of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2004), which is based on Satrapi’s childhood growing up in Iran during similar political turmoil.
Though bleak in many respects, Ahmad’s life is still filled with joyful holidays and friends as part of an exciting community within the camp. These wonderful experiences are clouded, however, by everyday episodes of school bullying and worries of being separated from his way of life. Ahmed is, inevitably, separated from his family during the Lebanese civil war, leaving a series of painful memories. He persistently pursues education and opportunity and his efforts echo the journey of the Palestinian people today as they make the best of their present circumstances while remaining steadfast in their determination to return to their homeland.
Other books that capture the essence of the Palestinian struggles include: Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdul-Fattah (2008), Samir and Yonatan by Daniella Carmi (1996), The Shepherd’s Granddaughter by Ann Laurel Carter (2010), A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird & Sonia Nimr (2006), A Stone in My Hand by Catherine Clinton (2010), Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye (1997), and Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat (2007).
Leila Abdelrazaq is a Palestinian author and artist based in Chicago. She graduated from DePaul University in 2015 with a B.F.A. in Theatre Arts and a B.A. in Arabic Studies. Baddawi is Abdelrazaq’s debut graphic novel — she is also the creator of a number of zines and short comics. Her work primarily explores issues related to diaspora, refugees, history, memory, and borders. Abdelrazaq has been vocal in regards to the Palestinian conflict since 2011. She is currently a member of For the People Artist’s Collective, and is a co-founder of Al Mirsa, an organization dedicated to promoting Arab arts and culture in the Chicago area. Her website is www.lalaleila.com.
Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ