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In Year of the Rabbit, Booklist’s first-ever Top of the List winner for Adult Graphic Novel, Tian Veasna recounts his family’s experiences in post–Vietnam War Cambodia, revealing starvation, torture, and death under the Khmer Rouge regime, as well as unexpected kindness and uncanny coincidences. The following books—graphic novels, prose novels, and memoirs—chronicle the lives of individuals and families living through war and other political violence.
Algériennes: The Forgotten Women of the Algerian Revolution. By Swann Meralli. Illus. by Deloupy. Tr. by Ivanka Hahnenberger. 2020. Pennsylvania State Univ., $24.95 (9780271086231).
After learning that her mother barely escaped a bombing during the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62), a contemporary French woman embarks on a haunting journey of interconnected discoveries in this fictionalization of true-life experiences.
The Best We Could Do. By Thi Bui. Illus. by the author. 2017. Abrams ComicArts, $24.95 (9781419718779).
In 1976, Bui’s family fled Vietnam for the U.S. By recording in this graphic novel her parents’ lives and the complex political situations that led her family to become refugees, Bui makes sense of what she couldn’t as a child.
Freedom Hospital: A Syrian Story. By Hamid Sulaiman. Illus. by the author. Tr. by Francesca Barrie. 2018. Interlink, $40 (9781623719944).
This heartfelt graphic novel by an eyewitness to the early days of the Syrian civil war centers on the staff and patients at an underground hospital treating victims of the Assad regime, putting a human face to the headlines and news footage of the still-ongoing conflict.
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers. By Loung Ung. 2000. HarperPerennial, $16.99 (978-0060856267).
Ung, who was only five when the Khmer Rouge began their murderous siege of Cambodia in 1975, begins her memoir (which was adapted into a 2017 film) as the family was sent into exile, vividly describing their struggle for survival in a world gone mad.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After. By Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil. 2018. 288p. Crown, $26 (9780451495327).
In this soulful, searing memoir, Wamariya writes of how, in 1994, massacres obliterated her childhood home life in Rwanda, and how she and her older sister escaped and became refugees, eventually finding asylum in the U.S.
In the Shadow of the Banyan. By Vaddey Ratner. 2012. Simon & Schuster, $25 (9781451657708).
Based on Ratner’s life as a young girl of the Cambodian aristocracy under the Khmer Rouge, this heartrending, mournful novel depicts the horrors of the killing fields while still managing to capture beautiful moments.
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. By Art Spiegelman. 1986. Pantheon, $16.95 (9780394747231).
In Spiegelman’s now-classic graphic-novel masterpiece, he queries his father about what it was like to live through the Nazi occupation of Poland and the death camps.
The Mountains Sing. By Quế Mai Phan Nguyễn. 2020. Algonquin, $26.95 (9781616208189).
A granddaughter and her grandmother take turns narrating this multigenerational novel of twentieth-century Vietnam, which balances the unrelenting devastation of war with redemptive moments.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. By Marjane Satrapi. Illus. by the author. Tr. by Anjali Singh. 2003. Pantheon, $17.95 (9780375422300).
Reflecting her perspective from ages 10 to 14, Satrapi’s extraordinary autobiography-in-comics chronicles her family’s experience during the Ayatollah Khomeini’s authoritarian regime, and the violence that crested in the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war.
Zahra’s Paradise. By Amir. Illustrated by Khalil. 2011. First Second, $29.99 (9781596436428).
While this graphic novel about a young man and his mother searching in vain for his missing teenage brother, arrested during a protest following Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election, is fictionalized, it has the weight of documentary.
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