book thoughts: Berlin: City of Stones & Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon History of Hiroshima

I just happened to pick up both of these books at the same time, each of them recommended by two different friends for different reasons.  But I found it interesting to read them one after the other, since they are connected in a few different ways.

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Keiji/ Project Gen (TRN)/ Spiegelman, Art Nakazawa

‘Barefoot Gen’ is the story of a Japanese family living in Hiroshima during WWII (based on the actual life of author/artist Keiji Nakazawa).  Their father does not agree with the war or Japan’s part in it.  My knowledge of the pacific front is very low – everyone tends to focus on the European front in school, books, movies etc. And even less do we hear about what life was like for the normal people living in Japan at the time.  When Gen’s father openly criticizes the Japanese government (and by doing that, insulting the Emperor), his family is shunned by the town.  Abused even. 

I found some of the violence a bit shocking, but then again, its a very militaristic culture.  The father is constantly beating the boys when the misbehave, and other random people also smack them around!  Not sure if this is just a convention of the manga medium or actually reflective of the time.  Still, it happened a LOT. 

The drawings are very simple, reminding me of Persepolis, where the point was for this man to tell his story, not make great leaps and bounds in the art and style of Manga. 

I found this book fascinating and think it would be great to give to a teen who loves manga, slip a little history in there.  I’ve only read volume 1 but I’m looking forward to the rest of the series and seeing what happens after the bomb falls.

Berlin: City of Stones is about Germany before WWII.  Again, the focus is on everyday people, their lives, and their reaction to what their government is doing (the rumor of weapons being stockpiled even though Germany wasn’t supposed to be doing that).  Again, I felt as though I learned a bit while reading through the stories, especially about the Communist party in Germany. 
The art is a bit more advanced than Barefoot Gen, but not by much.  A few times I had an issue with telling the female characters apart.  If it hadn’t been for their male counterparts, I might have had issues following the story. 

If you’re looking for a way to vicariously learn about history, these two books should fill that need and get you thinking about the other side that we don’t really get to see in ‘Band of Brothers’ or ‘Saving Private Ryan’…not that they were misunderstood, but just in general what was going on with the average person during those war years.

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