A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return (Single Titles)

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9781575059419: A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return (Single Titles)
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When Zeina was born, the civil war in Lebanon had been going on for six years, so it's just a normal part of life for her and her parents and little brother. The city of Beirut is cut in two by bricks and sandbags, threatened by snipers and shelling. East Beirut is for Christians, and West Beirut is for Muslims. When Zeina's parents don't return from a visit to the other half of the city, and the bombing grows ever closer, the neighbors in her apartment house create a world indoors for Zeina and her brother, where they can share cooking lessons and games and gossip. Together they try to make it through a dramatic evening in the one place they hoped they would always be safe—home. Zeina Abirached, born into a Lebanese Christian family in 1981, has collected her childhood memories of Beirut in a warm story about the strength of family and community.

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About the Author:

Zeina Abirached, born into a Lebanese Christian family in 1981, has collected her childhood memories of Beirut in a warm story about the strength of family and community.

Review:

"It is hard not to think of Marjane Satrapi's groundbreaking graphic memoir, 'Persepolis, ' while reading Zeina Abirached's moving account of her childhood in Lebanon in the 1980s. Both women write about their childhoods in the Middle East. Both write about their families. Even the two books' illustrations, black-and-white, geometric and highly stylized, have a similar feel: the images of women with almond-shaped eyes and prominent beauty marks, surrounded by heavy whirls of cigarette smoke.
And like Satrapi, Abirached approaches her personal story ambitiously, weaving the stories of her family members and their circle of neighbors and acquaintances into a tapestry of everyday life in war-torn East Beirut. Their tales are fascinating, and often brutal in their details.
Abirached's own story takes place on an afternoon in 1984. Abirached is a little girl, and her parents have left to visit her grandmother Annie, who lives a few blocks away. It is just an ordinary family visit. But the city is at war, and a sniper is positioned between the two homes. Abirached and her brother stay home, anxiously awaiting their parents' return. During the course of the afternoon, neighbors come and go, and with them, relate their experiences, which provide digressions from the main narrative.Life in 1980s Beirut is treacherous. There is the constant threat of artillery, random shootings and planned assassinations. The apartment Abirached lives in no longer has running water or electricity. The chandelier in a neighbor's apartment hangs close to the ground, rattling with each detonation. The children tell stories and make up games in the cramped foyer, taking breaks to eavesdrop on adult conversation.
'A Game for Swallows' lacks the intimacy and narrative propulsion of Satrapi's masterpiece. Less a story than a portrait of a family and a city and a culture under siege, the narrative unfolds somewhat disjointedly, intentionally perhaps -- as a means of conveying the haphazard and precarious nature of life in a city beset by civil war. Characters appear and disappear, sometimes without sufficient introduction, and with so many flashbacks breaking up the story line it's hard not to get lost in places.
Yet the afternoon of waiting for the parents' return remains grimly tense (a scene in which the family and neighbors call out 'Incoming!' and 'Outgoing!' in response to the explosions outside is terrifyingly real, with the characters faces falling slack during moments of silence and panicked when the bombs explode). The profound dislocation of living in a war zone is palpable on every page. And an ominous question hangs over it all: Will Abirached's parents return? And if they do, what exactly will they be returning to?
The book's strengths are myriad. Abirached is a lovely artist, and her characters' faces are remarkably expressive. There is much humor, a welcome relief from the chaos and heartache of the human stories within.
For young readers, 'A Game for Swallows' will come as a revelation. At a time when the Middle East is still in turmoil and when Americans have suffered losses of electricity and other necessities during recent storms and floods, this is a story that will hit home even as it causes young, impressionable eyes to look at life abroad." --The New York Times--Newspaper

"A casual browser could be forgiven for picking up this graphic novel and not realizing it wasn't Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (2003) until a fair way in. With its childlike visual stylization and stark black-and-white forms depicting the life of a young girl in a Middle Eastern country at war, this screams out for comparison to Satrapi's classic. However, while Persepolis examined the political and religious ramifications on a nation through the life of one growing child, Abirached's tale focuses tightly on people and their deep ties to one another as neighbors gather in the Beirut apartment of Zeina and her little brother while they await their parents' return from across a city under siege. As she puts an accessible face on a foreign culture through her characters, Abirached also distinguishes her piece with striking and unique design work. Her use of heavily contrasted black-and-white spaces, as well as elegant flourishes like crowding an anxious room with ticks and tocks, suggests an impressive new talent following in the footsteps of an established master." --Booklist

--Journal

Zeina Abirached's evocative memoir, translated from French and told in a graphic novel format, opens with an attractive skyline of East Beirut in 1984. As the perspective zooms in, the initial beauty gives way to empty streets, windows protected by cinder blocks, rooftops lined with barbed wire, electrical wires dangling from homes, and rows upon rows of steel drums indicating the Green Line, a demarcation line separating Muslim and Christian factions during the Lebanese Civil War, which took place from 1975 to 1990. The author's apartment building looks out over this demarcation line. On the evening this story takes place, a young Zeina and her even younger brother, await the return of their parents, who have gone to visit their grandmother. Although she only lives a few blocks away, her apartment is situated on the other side of the Green Line and requires Zeina's parents to follow a precise path to avoid sniper fire. One by one, Zeina's nine apartment neighbors gather in her tiny foyer, an interior and therefore safer room in the building. Among them are Chucri, whose taxi driver father was murdered at the beginning of the war and whose generator keeps the building running during routine blackouts, a young couple expecting their first child and awaiting emigration to Canada, and Ernest, a former high school French teacher whose identical twin brother was killed by a sniper. Reminiscent of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, the black-and-white artwork, at first glance minimal and stark, keenly displays these neighbors' wide range of emotions. As they drink strong Turkish coffee and eat stouf (a cake made of flour, oil, sugar, and turmeric), the neighbors play cards, act out scenes from Cyrano, and discuss baby names while trying to forget the noise of gunfire outside and the growing absence of Zeina's parents. Their time together underscores the toll the war has taken as Farah, always carrying a small bag with passports and ready cash, shows off wedding pictures she keeps in a box, one of her few possessions after her last apartment burned. Despite the war around them, these neighbors have never forgotten community and compassion. Chucri contributes lettuce (washed, no less, when there is no running water) to the meal. The neighbors' simple sharing of food and memories eases fears on this particularly violent night. While this thought-provoking memoir educates American readers on this foreign war, it also encourages them to appreciate their own freedom, safety, and comforts and to build their own communities. One night can change a lifetime." --Foreword Magazine
--Magazine

"Comparisons to Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis are inevitable; like Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel, this book (also first published in French) presents a girlhood under fire in the war-torn Middle East. Here the setting is 1984 Beirut, a city segregated by religion with Christian and Muslim residents locked in unrelenting civil war. The story's focus is a single harrowing night when Zeina's parents, visiting her grandparents a few blocks away, must make their way home through heavy bombing. Neighbors have gathered in the family's foyer--the safest place left--to wait out the shelling and hope for Zeina's parents' return. Abirached skillfully weaves flashbacks and explanatory asides into the narrative while maintaining the evening's tension. Despite the oppressive atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, much-needed moments of levity shine through as neighbors try to distract Zeina, her younger brother, and themselves by telling amusing anecdotes, re-enacting scenes from Cyrano de Bergerac, baking a cake, and partaking of fine whiskey. Stark, dramatic illustrations (mostly black backgrounds with white-outlined characters and features) include repeated motifs (flowers, dragons) that effectively capture elements of the culture and lend nuance to the high emotions through small changes in expression or detail. A poignant portrayal of a community determined to hold onto optimism and humanity under dire circumstances." --The Horn Book Magazine

--Journal

"A stark look at the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s, as seen through the eyes of a child anxiously awaiting her parents' arrival from her grandmother's house on the other side of the demarcation line.

With shells and gunfire delivering staccato bursts of violence, young Zeina and her brother have been sequestered within the small foyer in their apartment. This tiny room offers the most protection from the constant artillery fire, and it becomes a place for neighbors in the building to congregate and seek asylum. Though war is raging and death always seems to loom near with shells falling and snipers possibly crouching behind every wall, Zeina and her neighbors try to live the best they can--making cakes, acting out scenes from Cyrano de Bergerac and drinking strong Turkish coffee. Through austere black-and-white illustrations (with a detectable influence from Persepolis' Marjane Satrapi), Abirached easily conveys the overarching sense of unease and how something as simple as a visit to grandma's can inspire fear. Abirached's readers will instantly empathize with those who do not readily have access to simple luxuries many take for granted--running water, electricity or the simple return of our loved ones from an outing--and this may perhaps spur them to re-examine what they may have otherwise overlooked.

Quietly mesmerizing and thought-provoking
." --Kirkus Reviews

--Journal

"Zeina and her younger brother are growing up in Beirut, where civil war is a part of daily life. To protect against strikes and sniper fire, the family's living space has been reduced to the relative security of their apartment foyer, where a rug hanging on the wall, depicting Moses and the Hebrews fleeing Egypt, figures predominantly as a story background. This account chronicles one day in their lives, as the siblings await their parents' return and neighbors come and spend time with them, building an island of sanctuary for the children during this time of uncertainty. Bold, graphic, black-and-white images are visually and emotionally striking. Excellent use of maps and diagrams provides reference points and enhances understanding of spatial relationships. Unique panel placement includes several sequences of horizontal strips, read as columns. Images portray elapsed time, such as repeated smoking and countdown panels, and control pacing while revealing mounting tension. Excruciating wait time is depicted with cumulative 'tic' and 'toc' filling successive panels. Circular images of an embracing family contrast with the stark linear images of a war-torn country. Warmth and humor of daily life is shown in baking and storytelling, and wedding-dress close-ups touchingly highlight a mother's worry over soiling the hem, masking her worry over sniper fire. This superb memoir is destined to become a classic." --starred, School Library Journal

--Journal

"In the tradition of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Lebanese author-artist Abirached offers readers a memory of her childhood in war-torn Beirut. Abirached and her brother are young children, separated from their parents during a particularly violent bombing. The violence brings all the people of Abirached's apartment complex together, however, and they spend hours together in the foyer, waiting for her parents' return. Abirached's b&w inks offer a stark contrast in hard, geometric patterns that make images at once abstract and fully representative of her childhood memories. The characters, despite their cartoonish nature, show a variety of emotions, and Abirached's gift for pacing makes tense moments appropriately full of anxiety. It is as often the space she leaves empty as the drawings themselves that tell the story--and each detail offered provides insight into the horrors of growing up in a war zone. A winner for young readers and adults alike." --Publishers Weekly

--Journal

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