I Live Here
The anthology I Live Here is spearheaded by actress and debut author Mia Kirshner (The L Word) and collects four short books focusing on displaced women and children around the world. A hardcover sleeve opens to reveal four individual paperbacks to pull out and digest one at a time. Each book opens with Kirshner’s journals from her travels to each location and is followed by a series of related writings and illustrations.
The first book takes readers to Ingushetia, a refugee camp not far from Grozny, Chechnya, during the fighting that has continued since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. In this book, Kirshner and her cohorts prove to be talented and engaging writers, crafting such vivid imagery (in this collection and the three that follow) of extreme circumstances that it can be almost physically gut-wrenching in the way a Chuck Palahniuk novel has the power to turn readers’ stomachs.
It can be overwrought at times, but that physical connection is designed to make readers truly empathize and pay attention to the dismal situations. The authors and artists pull no punches in their depictions of the darkest, dirtiest, and most horrible of things that are happening to their subjects, but it is all with the goal of affecting their readers.
Celebrated comics journalist Joe Sacco contributed a graphic novella, “Chechen War, Chechen Women,” to the first book that may be the finest of the collection. Sacco offers an incredible amount of detail—culled from a personal trip to the refugee camp—in his recognizable black-and-white art style.
The second book focuses on Burma, or the Union of Myanmar, the infamous war zone of Southeast Asia that has seen refugees fleeing to bordering Thailand for roughly 50 years. This book, like most in the collection, forgoes a broad explanation of the situations (brief summaries can be found inside the hardcover sleeve) in favor of individual accounts designed to personalize the events. The artists tell a disturbing and deeply affecting tale of manual labor, home abortions, and the sex trade.
The final two books focus on Ciudad Juárez, a city facing El Paso, Texas, on the United-States–Mexico border, and Malawi, a dense African republic plagued by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The former tackles the stories of women who are disappearing from the factory-laden city and touches upon the drug-trafficking, rape, and murder that are reportedly prevalent in the area. The latter spotlights the overbearing feeling the AIDS scare can have on everyday life when one lives in a country where one out of five people has contracted HIV and coffin demand is so high the area is becoming deforested.
Any project of this magnitude is bound to have its problems, and I Live Here is no exception. Readers will inevitably gravitate toward certain authors and artists over others in the varied project, but the impact of this Amnesty International-supported venture is hard to deny. It is a celebration of art in its many forms, and an important call to awareness.
Reviewed by William Jones on October 14, 2008
I Live Here
- Publication Date: October 14, 2008
- Genres: Graphic Novel
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon
- ISBN-10: 0375424784
- ISBN-13: 9780375424786