Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘’Algeria is Beautiful Like America’, out April 11 from Lion Forge Comics.
By Clyde Hall. Like Harvey Pekar and American Splendor, writer Olivia Burton has a skill for making the personal tales of everyday life plain yet perfectly poignant. It’s a gift she applies to her combination travelogue and memoir Algeria is Beautiful Like America, which details the journey to explore her family’s history.
Burton was raised with stories her grandmother told of life in Algeria before the Algerian War of Independence (1954 -1962) that caused the family’s emigration to France. As Burton grew older, she studied that conflict, all the while trying to fathom her family’s part in the native struggle for autonomy. Relatives she loved and admired claimed ‘there was torture on both sides, like any war’, refused to watch De Gaulle on TV, and lamented for European-Algerian friends killed in the conflict. Burton’s attempt to reconcile in her mind the subjugation of indigenous peoples by colonial settlers (including her own family) became a point of shame, fear, curiosity, and even legacy. She had to experience Algeria, including the remote and hazardous land of her forefathers, for herself.
Burton leaves nothing out of her account. She includes negative emotions and allows the sort of thoughts we all try to deny or at least hide to percolate under the surface. We relate to her pride in coming from resilient, industrious farmers who carved out a hard life for themselves on government assigned, forbidding parcels of foreign land. Most found themselves ill-prepared for frontier life while Burton’s family not only survived but thrived. They considered themselves true Algerians who provided jobs and livelihood for native laborers.
The other side of the equation is a vastly Islamic native population suffering Western occupation and assimilation for over a century, while outnumbering the ruling class 10 to 1 but living on only a fifth of the average European-Algerian salary. Burton’s experience visiting independent Algeria affirms that our worst fears often come from the unknown, from perceiving a people, a religion, an historical enemy as a threat rather than seeking them out to better understand both sides of a past conflict.
Artist Mahi Grand’s illustration for this 150-page volume feels grounded and fittingly real. Even so, the magnificent Algerian countryside depicted here explains its undying hold on those who once called it home, just as America’s Western vistas inspired spiritual unity between the inhabitants and the land. Grand also has a talent for dropping wonderful fantasy segments into otherwise sensical material, sparingly but effectively. The side-by-side images of Olivia on a balcony overlooking the coast of Algiers from the same vantage point as her mother nearly half a century before are especially affecting.
Algeria Is Beautiful like America offers something important and significant to the current reexaminations of national history and character. Burton sets out to find if her people were racist, exploiting oppressors, or hard-working laborers who shared benefits of Western culture and created opportunity where little existed. She discovers, as is often the case, the truth lying somewhere between. And that people are more resilient, more forgiving, and more alike than dissimilar no matter their race, faith, or nationality. In this day of shrieking political discord, Burton presents civil discourse and empathic consideration as vital when preparing the next chapter of a national identity.
Lion Forge Comics/$24.99
Written by Olivia Burton.
Illustrated by Mahi Grand.
Originally published as ‘L’Algérie c’est beau comme l’Amérique’, Steinkis 2015.
Translation by Edward Gauvin.
8 out of 10
‘Algeria is Beautiful Like America’ hits stores April 11.