Friday, February 28, 2014

One Soul, by Ray Fawkes

I'm pretty new to the world of graphic novels.  I might not have ever picked on up at all, except that as a
reading coach at the elementary school where I work I have to keep up with the latest trends in children's literature, and they are very popular there right now.  But I have found that despite the "picture book" format, graphic novels for adults are able to tell very insightful and substantive stories that engage me as a reader in a very different way than more traditional formats.

One of my book clubs recently read One Soul by Ray Fawkes as our monthly pick, and the premise itself is intriguing, even for a graphic novel.  The book follows 18 distinct lives, from prehistoric times through the 20th century, with one panel from each life on each two page spread.  The people come from all different geographic regions and backgrounds.  There is an Egyptian priestess, a Sumerian warrior, a medieval doctor and a 19th century dance hall girl.  There is a mix of men and women, and two of the characters are gay.  As you read each page, the panels are sometimes completely independent of each other, and sometimes when read together they form a longer thought or theme that only has full meaning when read together.  The art work is almost rudimentary, and the lack of color only adds to the general stark portrayal of the lives of the characters.

The overall theme of the book seems to be humankind's search for meaning in a world where oftentimes meaningless things seem to happen.  Each of the characters has their moments of struggle and of triumph.  Some of the characters are sympathetic, and some are violent and hard to love.  There are oppressors and the oppressed, yet despite the sometimes vast differences in their perspectives and experiences, they all go through essentially the same journey-the search for love, the search for self, the search for acceptance, the search for meaning.

The prevailing opinion of my book club ladies was that the book was pretty depressing.  And it is true that there are not too many moments of transcendence.  Most of the people led rather short, sometimes violent, often unfulfilling lives.   But woven throughout the book are glimpses into a deeper meaning, and it is often the characters who have died that provide the deepest insights into the struggles of human life.  In the end, all of the characters in the book meet death, and become one with the universal consciousness that Fawkes must imagine exists outside of our mortal lives.  While I can't say I found the stories hopeful, I did find some comfort in the idea that all human beings are engaged in the struggle together, even while in the end we are each so desperately alone.

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