Review: ‘When David Lost His Voice’ by Judith Vanistendael

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Currently on the shelves is a book with a bright orange cover and a powerful story about coping and understanding death and loss. Our lives can become so routine: work, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. Ironically, the closer we come to death, the more we appreciate life. Just like they say, our lives flash before our eyes at a time of crisis. It can unnerve us. Americans, for example, have been thought to not deal too well with death. However, given the popularity of zombies, that overall outlook seems to be improving. And there are some cultures who appear to be more in touch with death. “When David Lost His Voice,” the new graphic novel by Judith Vanistendael, published by SelfMadeHero, gives us a story that shows how life and death can come to terms. It’s a story not without a healthy dose of good cheer.

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I recently viewed Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in New York,” a comedy about what happens when relatives from France descend upon a couple’s New York apartment for the weekend. In the movie, you see just how crude, or earthy, depending on your taste, these French folks can be. The humor itself felt French too, embracing the absurdity in life more than your typical American comedy. It seems to be a matter of dropping any inhibitions and yet done with a certain style. In that regard, I find a similar sensibility running throughout this graphic novel. It is the story of David, who discovers he has developed a cancer in his throat. He is an older gent who has a full-grown daughter, Miriam, as well as a 9-year-old daughter, Tamar, from a recent marriage to Paula. And Miriam has recently given birth herself to Louise. It is quite a premise: all these women are a vital part of David’s life and the prospects for his future don’t look so good.

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David is a special man who is well loved. He’s a man of few words. He prefers to let his actions speak for him. He owns a bookshop so he deals in words every day but, for seeking deeper meaning, he can make good use of silence. It is these qualities that are on display as he does his part to console Tamar, about the possibility he may not be around for much longer. He’s there for her. He’s attentive to her child’s viewpoint.

David and his wife, Paula, tirelessly work together to keep their daughter calm, even if it requires adhering to an elaborate scheme to make it look like it’s possible to send mail back and forth attached to balloons. It’s almost easier for David to attend to little Tamar’s needs than it is to attend to the needs of anyone else. Miriam keeps seeing him as a ghost. Paula, an artist, reconstructs him from x-rays.

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Interestingly enough, it’s Paula who becomes very vocal and loses control a bit over all the quiet surrounding David. It’s bad enough that David won’t talk about it. But no one else is capable of articulating what’s happening either. Or does it just seem that way? Balance is gained when a child’s perspective, that sense of lightness, can be brought into play. Maybe mermaids, magic, and notes sent on balloons can help make things better.

As long as everyone believes in hope and compassion, then the end need not be harsh and bitter. In a story that floats with such delicate ease, Judith Vanistendael does a beautiful job of evoking what is involved when all parties manage to transcend a crisis and create something new.

“When David Lost His Voice” is a remarkable graphic novel by Judith Vanistendael. She is a Belgian author of graphic novels and an illustrator. She is known for “Dance by the Light of the Moon,” two volume work also published by SelfMadeHero. You can find out more about purchasing your own copy of this book here.

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Filed under Comics, Death, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Judith Vanistendael, SelfMadeHero

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