Graphic novel time! I learned about Chasing Echoes by Dan Goldman and George Schall (Humanoids, 2019) from some sort of book list earlier this year, and the premise had me adding it to my TBR list (along with the fact that it was available at my library! Interlibrary loan still isn’t fully functional, and I’m not entirely sure if the other libraries in the area are back to allowing residents from out of town check out their materials yet. I’m just glad they’re open at all and am working my way through my TBR items that are available locally, trying to wait it out until things are back to whatever normal looks like after this is over…).
The story starts out with Malka, a youngish mother who’s obviously struggling with her life. She’s being evicted, her son has announced he’s going to live with his dad, and her daughter says she wants to follow suit when she’s old enough. Meanwhile, Malka’s extended family is off on an extended trip to Poland to try to track down the family history there that was destroyed by the Holocaust. Malka, who has positioned herself as the family historian who has kept records and worked to make connections between all the papers she’s managed to track down, hasn’t been invited, but a late-night Ambien-fueled plane ticket purchase by a relative has her scrambling to make it to the airport in time the next day. Suffice it to say, a lot of people in the family aren’t happy about this.
The trip exposes a lot of cracks and differences among the family, including the differences in how they each relate to Judaism, and illustrates the strain of generational trauma, along with the antisemitism that still rages in parts of Europe. The family struggles to pinpoint the location of the mill owned by their ancestors before the war and deal with the pain caused by having lost so much. In doing so, they grow closer, learn to understand and relate to each other a little better- even Malka!- but never lose their boisterous, outgoing, argumentative vibe.
Chasing Echoes is haunting, painful, wistful, and warm all at once, with plenty of measures of snarky humor thrown in for balance. The scenes in Auschwitz, especially when the family members are viewing the piles of hair, teeth, shoes, and eyeglasses were difficult; I had to put the book down for a few minutes and sit with that. Even now, the memory of those panels is harrowing and hits me right in the stomach and chest. That hair, those teeth, were people. Those eyeglasses, each pair was specifically made for one person: one person who sat in a chair, who looked into the optometrist’s equipment, who slid those glasses onto the bridge of their nose, and then that person was murdered. I’ve got tears in my eyes as I type this; there’s a heaviness here that if you’re not in a good place to handle, you may want to wait until you can, but don’t skip it if you can manage at all. These kinds of stories are important.
I enjoyed Malka’s growth and the change in how some of her family members viewed her over the course of their trip to Poland. This was a great example that a family doesn’t have to be perfect and can even have some pretty big rifts but can still function (even in dysfunction!) as a family. Chasing Echoes is a quick read, but it leaves an impression.