CJL: Disconnections

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

*Images are pages from Leela Corman’s “Victory Parade” (Graphic credit to Leela Corman/Reprinted with the permission of Schocken Books).

Some experiences can permanently affect people’s lives. That often causes a disconnection with their family and friends who are unable to understand how they have changed. Leela Corman explores this idea in her graphic novel “Victory Parade” (Schocken Books). The novel mostly takes place in Brooklyn in 1943, but the effect of having living during World War II underscores the action. 

Rose Arensberg, who works as a welder in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, connects the different characters. Rose lives with her daughter, Eleanor, and Ruth, a German-Jewish refugee. Although married to Sam, who is serving in the U.S. Army, Rose is in the midst of an affair with a disabled former veteran. Her marriage was the result of an unexpected pregnancy and she worries about what life will be like when her husband returns. Ruth, who suffers nightmares from what happened to her in Germany, takes no nonsense from male customers, something that causes her to be fired from several jobs. She finds fitting employment as a professional woman wrestler, although her anger remains a problem. At the end of the novel, Sam returns to his family, but is haunted by what he saw in the concentration camps of Europe. Unfortunately, none of these characters are willing or able to talk about their experiences.

The graphic format of “Victory Parade” leaves readers having to fill in some of the blanks behind the meaning of the actions and words of the characters. However, that seems to be the point: as in real life, we often have to guess what lies behind the behavior of those we know. The drawings are stark and blunt; this is not a prettified version of the world, but rather a rough and raw one. The work features examples of nudity in a sexual context and includes scenes from a concentration camp. While definitely not a book for children, it serves as an intriguing and disturbing vision of life during World War II.