A Family Secret
By now, the historical events of the Nazi occupation and subsequent Holocaust, as well as related subjects, have been visited in graphic novel form more times than I can count, probably most notably with Art Spiegelman’s epic and effective Maus. It’s a subject that deserves repetition; so many artists and authors have laid their craft to telling and retelling aspects and subtleties of the stories that came from there.
A Family Secret begins with a teenager’s search through an attic for stuff to sell in a tag sale and evolves into his grandmother telling him about her experiences as a “safe” Dutch citizen, and then moves into the tale of her Jewish friend Esther, who suffered through the terror of the Holocaust. The framing device of “teenager finding stuff in an attic” only takes up a few panels in the collective story, and his reactions to his grandmother’s tale seem to be almost indifferent and don’t add anything to the overall graphic novel. I remain confused as to why they were included at all, but perhaps they provide a relatable point of entry for the intended audience of children.
Most comics that deal with the effects of Nazi Germany incorporate historical first- or second-person accounts of actual events and people, but Eric Heuvel’s A Family Secret chooses to approach the topic from a fictional, or hypothetical, angle. While it is firmly rooted in history and delivers accurate facts along an accurate timeline, some of the impact of the actual story is mitigated by the fact that it will inevitably be compared to “actual events,” which are generally more gripping. Regardless, it was an easy read in one sitting, and it presented history in a way that even I could understand, as someone who is notoriously bewildered when it comes to that type of thing. This artist’s work has actually come under fire from the Central Council of Jews in Germany as oversimplifying history, though I doubt it intends to act as an encyclopedia of events. Instead, it’s a gateway into further study.
The line art is crisp and beautiful, and probably the best part of the book itself, though the style might not complement the subject matter as much as it could. Again, it’s another aspect that provides accessibility to the audience.
And for a story about the Holocaust, there is very limited violence and no profanity. It should be appropriate for any age reader who is prepared to learn about this portion of history. If you enjoy this, the story and characters are expanded upon in The Search, also by Heuvel. Even if they never move past the world of being just characters on a page, it’s a solid read and a good introduction to a far deeper story.
Reviewed by Collin David on July 2, 2012
A Family Secret
- Publication Date: October 13, 2009
- Genres: Graphic Novel
- Hardcover: 64 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
- ISBN-10: 0374322716
- ISBN-13: 9780374322717