Graphic novels are not a new addition to the genre of Holocaust fiction. In fact, comic books in the 1950s-60s were among the first to speak about the Nazi war against the Jews. (For more information, see The Reporter’s review of “We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust” at www.thereportergroup.org/Article.aspx?aID=4947.) However, graphic works related to the war and its aftermath continue to be published and the range of the material varies greatly. For example, two new works – “Chasing Echoes” by Dan Goldman and George Schall (Humaniods) and “In the Spider Web” adapted by Avraham Ohayon from a novel by Chaim Eliav (Feldheim Publishers) – take place in different time periods and focus on how the past affects families in distinct ways. “Chasing Echoes,” which takes place during contemporary times, describes itself as “a graphic novel about generations of survivors surviving each other” and focuses on familial relationships. “In the Spider Web,” whose events take place in the 1960s, calls itself “a suspenseful saga of Nazi intrigue and Divine providence across two continents and two generations” and is as much about political intrigue as it is about individuals’ reactions to history.
The Bloom family in “Chasing Echoes” is a typical Jewish family whose members both love each other and drive each other crazy. Members of the family are traveling to visit Budapest, tour Poland (including a trip to Auschwitz) and then find the mill that belonged to their family before the Nazis arrived. Oh, and while they are there, they also plan to attend an Elton John concert. At first, all the family is invited – well, except for Malka, whose life is a mess and who can’t afford to pay for her own ticket. However, she is the family member with the most knowledge of their history. After one relative feels sorry for her and sends her a ticket, other family members quickly wish she hadn’t been invited because they find her behavior irritating. However, she is not the one that’s a problem: after only a few days together, most Bloom family members are already getting on each other’s nerves.
Anyone who thought their family vacation was bad may re-evaluate that thought after spending time with the Blooms. The baggage they bring with them is not only that which carries their clothes. Fortunately for the readers, family members finally realize just how much they mean to each other. They also learn more about the lives of Jews in Europe in contemporary times, especially just how much antisemitism still exists.
“Chasing Echoes” is well done and fun to read. The family tree, complete with drawings of the characters, was extremely helpful since some of the Blooms closely resemble each other. Parts of the book will have readers cheering and others will touch their hearts. This is a great work for those who love graphic novels about families.
While “Chasing Echoes” takes place in the 21st century, the events of “In the Spider Web” occur during 1967. This thriller contains a large number of characters whose faces and descriptions are shown in an introductory cast of characters. The action moves from Brazil to Israel and back as a group of Nazis is discovered in South America. What sets off the action is the death of Alberto Hunkes, an executive with Volkswagen who was about to sign a lucrative contract with a law firm. One of those lawyers, Jewish Jairo Silverman, is upset when someone attending the funeral offers a Nazi salute. Although not religious, Silverman is disturbed because he is the one who helped Hunkes receive his citizenship papers. The plot becomes more complex when mysterious men threaten Silverman and Hunkes’ wife.
In Israel, during the same time period, Yitzchak Austerlitz visits Yad Vashem and sees the face of the man who destroyed his family during the Holocaust. Austerlitz wants to learn the man’s name and whereabouts since he can’t concentrate on anything except his desire to avenge those who died. Of course, these different plot lines are connected in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways. This thriller does have a particularly theological slant, with one character noting that God uses antisemitism against Jews whenever they don’t uphold God’s laws. However, the plot is so exciting that most readers won’t notice or care about its theology.
“In the Spider Web” would make a great film. There’s enough drama and pathos to satisfy those who love thrillers and conspiracy novels.