The Garden of Inside-Outside – review

Written by Chiara Mezzalama

Illustrated by Régis Lejonc

Published by Book Island ISBN 978-1-911496-16-8

Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster

This is a story that sets out its context carefully as the events that surround and impact upon our young protagonist Chiara requires sensitive handling. A memoir framed against a turbulent period in the history of the Middle East evokes the author’s remembrances of things past.

With similarities to a propaganda poster, the cover of this graphic novel shows two children linking hands in a beautiful garden. Above their heads and outside-the-inside is the image of the Ayatollah Khamenei in ominous red and black. On some pages there is not the conventional linear story but instead images that could be self-contained and work in their own right.

Throughout the story at the top of the pages we see either the word OUTSIDE in red to indicate danger or INSIDE in green for the more peaceful moments. Towards the end both OUTSIDE and INSIDE are shown together once another child, Massoud, enters the garden. Through their interactions the children process the realities of the world outside. They shape their fears into adventures and shared values into friendship.

The illustrations in this book remind me of linocuts or wood block printing. The limited palette of green, blue, red, yellow with black outlines helps to reinforce this impression. From arches to decorative tile work, from illustrated carpets to lush vegetation gone wild, the line work is fluid and flows well. The drawing style is a combination of the powerful details found in David B.’s work and the graphic boldness of Marjane Satrapi’s illustrations.

This is a delightful story about friendship in unusual circumstances. Based on the biographical events of the author’s life and set during a time of revolution and war, it is the precious moments that cement our personalities and create the myths of our early years. At the end of this story there is a moment that reminds me of a line from A. E. Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad.’

“That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.”

This graphic novel is proof that it is necessary to relive your past and to share this with others.

17th April 2020

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