Monday, September 5, 2011

We Are On Our Own: A Memoir by Miriam Katin 2006

"Even as fiction it would be one of the best stories I've read in the last year, but as a memoir it leaves you speechless." from a review by Andrew D. Arnold in Time magazine 6/1/06

Miriam Katin, born in 1942 in Hungary, is a graphic artist who has lived and worked in the United States and Israel. This graphic memoir tells the story of her and her mother’s flight from Budapest in 1944. They fled to the countryside where with forged papers her mother sought work disguised as a peasant and lived with the constant fear of being discovered as a Jew.

In 1968, Miriam Katin was herself a young mother and is remembering her own childhood during World War II. A number of times she interrupts the story of her childhood to present a scene of her interacting with her young child. The contrast between the two time periods and the two mother/child situations is stark, and one way aesthetically Katin makes this point is to draw the scenes from her childhood (which take up most of the book) in pencil with no color except for the bright red of the Nazi flag. The scenes of her and her child are colorful and drawn with more detail.

This book is called a memoir – it is not presented as fiction – but Katin has chosen not to use her and her mother’s real names. Although she provides no stated reason for this, it is most likely because, as she explains in an epilogue, she was only two at the time of their flight and has no independent memories. She is relying on the stories her mother told her whose details she cannot verify, but she can depend on her own emotional memory of fear and displacement. She illustrates though a number of contemporary scenes how the trauma of both her and her mother’s wartime experiences affected their postwar lives.

In an epilogue Katin reveals that she relied on information she found in letters her mother sent to her father when they were in hiding and he was a soldier at the front. On one page she makes a collage of several letters and a postcard her mother sent her father that reached him. On another she reproduces a photo of her and her mother taken in 1946.

To read a short article about the siege of Budapest in 1944 click here.

Budapest, Hungary
New York City, NY

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