A Graphic Revolution
Microcosm Publishing 2017
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Jewish StudiesNew Books in LiteratureNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in PoliticsNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network March 14, 2017 Olga Breininger
Julia Alekseyeva’s graphic novel Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution was published by Microcosm Publishing in 2017. This is the intertwining story of two women: Lola, who was born in a Jewish family in Kiev in 1910, and her great-granddaughter Julia, whose family moved to the United States from Ukraine in the wake of the events at Chernobyl. Lola has gone through the Bolshevik revolution, the Civil War, the Stalinist purges, deportation to Kazakhstan, and the Chernobyl disaster and these are her real-life memoirs that lay the foundation for the novel. The chapters telling Lola’s story are alternated with shorter interludes from the contemporary life of the second protagonist, Julia, a representative of the generation of millennials, who are struggling to come to terms with their idealistic views on life and politics amidst the changing world order.
Alekseyeva, who is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Harvard University, works on avant-garde cinema in the USSR, Japan, and France, and her academic interest in visual narrative techniques has deeply affected her work on the graphic novel. The story-telling in Soviet Daughter is rich and intense, and also full of supplementary comments and explanations of various aspects of Soviet everyday life; however, the novel is very easy to read and grasps the readers attention from the very first pages. To this, the sincerity of Alekseyeva’s intonation contributes greatly. She does not shy away from being very honest about issues such as inter-generational misunderstanding, conflicts within family, and difficulties of the migrant experience yet at the same time she persistently maintains the tactful balance between a personal story-telling and a nearly academic inquiry into the experience of several generations of Soviet Jewish immigrants in America.
The precursors of Alekseyeva’s novel are works such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. Another major influence on Alekseyeva is actually Vladimir Mayakovsky, especially his work in Okna ROSTA. Soviet Daughter does, in fact, open by a quote from Mayakovsky.
Julia Alekseyeva’s novel will be of much interest both to the broad readers audience, and also to the scholars of Soviet history, Jewish identity, and immigration. Into all of these themes it provides a fascinating insight.
Olga Breininger is a PhD candidate in Slavic and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. Her research interests include post-Soviet culture and geopolitics, with a special focus on Islam, nation-building, and energy politics. Olga is the author of the novel There Was No Adderall in the Soviet Union and columnist at Literratura.