August 20, 2012

American Widow, by Alissa Torres and Sungyoon Choi (2008)

On 11 September 2011 Colombian immigrant Luis Eduardo Torres heads off for his second day of work at New York's World Trade Center. He doesn't come home. What follows is a deeply emotional story as his widow, seven-months-pregnant Alissa Torres, negotiates the devastated, frustrated and painful aftermath without him.

American Widow is an exceptional graphic novel. It is a memoir by 9/11 widow Alissa Torres, whose deeply moving experience is illustrated sensitively and artfully by Sungyoon Choi. At times it almost feels like the reader is intruding: Torres is fearless in her expressions of sadness at her husband's death, frustration with the compensation and support that she is owed but does not receive, and anger at Eduardo (as she calls him) for failing to come home on 11 September leaving Alissa to raise their child on her own. I spent most of my comic-reading time on stories of costumed vigilantes or super-powered mutants - occasionally reading a graphic novel like this reminds me of how versatile and effective the graphic storytelling medium can be.

Through the experiences of a single woman we're able to discover precisely what the aftermath of 9/11 was like. This isn't a book about terrorism, or George W. Bush's so-called "War on Terror". The international implications and military responses do not factor into Torres' story. This is a book about people, loss and grief, and it's so much more effective because of it.

The bureaucratic nightmare of trying to receive Red Cross and US government assistance is horrifying. American Widow will likely shock and upset you at how the survivors and the relations of those who died are ultimately treated by their government, employers and the community at-large. One early example: it takes over a month for Eduardo's employer to admit he worked for them at all.

Sungyoon Choi's artwork is simple, stark and elegant. It doesn't interfere with the story, and only serves to enhance it. It uses a wonderful restricted palette of primarily black, white and blue. I haven't seen Ms Choi's artwork before, but based on this I am keen to track down anything else she has produced. It's masterful stuff.

American Widow is a fantastic graphic novel, and is strongly recommended.

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