The 2016 graphic novel Zenobia by Mortem Durr & Lars Horneman is about a Syrian refugee girl who finds herself alone in a boat to a safer shore. I don’t really know what to write, because I had some high-expectations from this “award-winning” book, and while it wasn’t exactly disappointing, it didn’t impress me much either.
First off, there are very few words in the story, a Rupi Kaur poetry book has more letters than Zenobia. Although, the artwork in this graphic novel is expansive and beautiful, quite like the work of artists like Raina Telgemeier, who writes & illustrates happier children books.
The story follows Amina, who we first meet in a boat packed with Syrian refugees trying to escape the grim realities of their strife-ridden lives. She then recalls memories of her mother, who teaches Amina to be brave like the legendary Syrian Queen Zenobia, who had rebelled against the Roman emperor. But can the young girl survive the treacherous boat journey?
The trouble with “Zenobia” for me is that it’s too simple for adults and too poignant/metaphorical for kids. Perhaps the best age group for this book would be those between the ages 16-21. I would’ve preferred some more story, not in terms of words, but through more pictures giving us insights into the life of the protagonist. Although, not giving Amina’s family more story conveys a sense of how little the lives of common Syrians matter.
Eoin Colfer’s graphic novel “Illegal” does a more powerful job of telling the story of an immigrant child. Zenobia is a 3/5 for me.
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