Sunday, October 6, 2019

Review: Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa

My husband has long been a graphic novel fan. In fact, he's traded getting some individual comics issues for waiting for the graphic novel instead. Obviously he's programmed to read text and image at the same time without any trouble. I still struggle with this a lot, feeling like the pictures break up my reading, and not in a thoughtful, positive way. But this is clearly my issue, not a genre issue. And so I keep trying to find my way in to graphic novels that otherwise fit my interests, like Portugal, a slow, dreamy graphic novel by Cyril Pedrosa.

Simon Muchat is a comics illustrator but he's completely blocked artistically, teaching children's classes instead of drawing himself and unhappy with his previous work. He seems to be standing at a cross roads in his life, not certain which road he should choose. His girlfriend tries to prod him towards work but their relationship is as unrewarding as his drawing and eventually she leaves him. Finally Simon decides to visit Portugal for his cousin's wedding. He doesn't speak the language and he doesn't really know the story of his father's family but this trip will help him find his history and find himself in the process.

The story is one of subtle and slow transformation as Simon is inspired by the magical country and the welcoming people he encounters. The colors in the pictures are duller, more earthbound in the beginning before he leaves France. Once he is in Portugal, a golden light and warmth suffuses many of the panels. In the beginning there is more text, telling clearly of his discontent and frustration. As the story progresses, there is far less dialogue and exposition. The Portuguese is left untranslated, which allows the English speaking reader to experience the lack of understanding as language washes over them just as it does for Simon. The simple line drawings and the wash of watercolors adds to the dreamy feeling of the story. The tale itself is observational and contemplative, detailing many simple, everyday occurrences. It is a wandering story of a man looking for and finding quiet inspiration and his own lost creativity. It is a story of connection with history, with a personal past, and with family.  I struggled with it but I do think that has everything to do with me and little to do with the book itself.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. I have a lot of the same problems with graphic novels, with the additional issue that I seem to be face-blind in illustrations and so keep confusing even radically different characters for each other. Don't even get me started on manga -- I'm reduced to tracing the line of panels with my fingers. But I keep trying! It sounds like you were able to appreciate this one, although maybe not as much as more graphically literate people.


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