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Eisele, Terry & Riddle, Jonathon – With Only Five Plums Book 3: Life in the East is Worthless



With Only Five Plums Book 3: Life in the East is Worthless

I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you’re already read the first two volumes of this series, as it would be silly for you to read a review of the final volume otherwise. This third volume begins with Anna finally getting back to her home village, where she discovers that it has been completely removed from the map. The Germans didn’t just destroy the buildings and kill the people, they also rerouted rivers, smoothed down hills and generally did everything they could to remove any trace of her old village. Terry and Jonathon do a heartbreaking job of showing how this process was completed based on accounts after the fact, but the Germans also taped everything (this information was used at the Nuremburg trials). This would have been the most heartbreaking thing in any other story, but at this point we still aren’t clear on what has happened to all of the people from this town, especially Anna’s family. This is all revealed, with the men being separated from their families and killed and the children being separated and sent away (and told cruel lies about being reunited with their families). Some of the children were sent to German families and adopted, and in one of the only uplifting parts of this story we learn that most of these children were eventually recovered and returned to their surviving family members. But the ones that didn’t survive, the ones that weren’t adopted… that’s a brutal tale. It’s only human nature to want a happy ending out of an unimaginable atrocity like this, for at least something good to happen to Anna after everything she’s been through, but her story of what happened to her family took any hope for that away. Still, this series should be required reading, and I’m hoping it ends up being taught in classrooms. If you think that humanity as a species couldn’t possibly do something like this again and we should stop remembering this horrible time, look at the state of world affairs. It’s easier than ever to think of different people as “other,” as not really people at all but just numbers, and this will only increase as global warming really kicks in and resources get scarcer. Without some preparation for this likelihood I’m afraid that we’ll be back at a similar juncture in human history sooner than anybody thinks. Sorry to get all grim on you, and I’m hoping that I’m just being unduly cynical, but either way you should give this series of graphic novels a chance. It’s vitally important that we’re not allowed to forget what happened. $9


Eisele, Terry & Riddle, Jonathon – With Only Five Plums Book 2: This Dark Age



With Only Five Plums Book 2: This Dark Age

This is the second of three volumes, so you might want to at least read the review for the first volume before reading this. Or, ideally, read the actual first volume. Anyway, this time around Anna tells the tale of her life immediately after getting separated from her baby, completely unsure about what has happened to the rest of her family. She mentions that she probably wouldn’t have had the strength to go on if she had known what happened to them at this point, so I can once again assume that it’s not going to end well for them. She talks about the experience on the train, packed in like cattle and unsure of where they were going and what would happen to them when they got there, and of how the older women would sometimes tell stories to pass the time. They eventually get to the concentration camp of Ravensbruck, and she again goes into excruciating detail as to what happened to her when she arrived. This volume actually tells most of the story of the war, as we see her trying to survive her three years in this camp, the various sections of the camp and how people would change when (or if) they came back from them, and her eventual march to an unknown location and fate. There’s even her moment at the end when a decent fictional story would have the heart to end on a happy note… but this, by and large, is not fictional. I still have the third volume yet to go, which contains the details of what happened to Anna’s tiny home town and her family, but I’m going to have to wait a few weeks to work up the nerve to go back into this world. No matter how many times I see them it’s always profoundly depressing to read the details of this era, as it’s unpleasant to think about just how close to savagery humanity is at any given moment and how little it takes to push us over that edge. Not that I’m saying that everybody would have behaved like the Germans in WWII, but there have been more than enough other atrocities committed in the years since that’s it’s clearly not that big of a leap for humans to make. Terry Eisele and Jonathan Riddle do a remarkable job of telling this story, as they’re perfectly content to let Anna’s words speak for themselves while still painting an uncomfortably vivid picture of exactly what she went through. This deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, so please give it a look. $10


Eisele, Terry & Riddle, Jonathon – With Only Five Plums Book 1: The Time Before



With Only Five Plums Book 1: The Time Before

What a haunting and riveting story this is, even though this is only the first of three books. There were all sorts of horrors going on during World War II, and this is the tale of Anna Nesporova and her life in the small Czech town of Lidice. Jonathon spends an admirable amount of time setting up Anna and her family as people, as it would have been easy to jump right into the more heartbreaking elements of the story. Actually, that’s not completely accurate, as getting to know that Anna still remembers the way her brother’s smile ticked up at one corner of his mouth more than 60 years later is pretty much the definition of heartbreaking. But we briefly see Anna grow up and get a good idea of her life in general before things start falling apart. An assassination attempt was made on an important German officer in charge of keeping the peace in Lidice and it was suspected that Anna’s brother (who had left them two years earlier in the hopes of sparing them this kind of attention) was involved. The Germans decided to make an example out of her family, but Anna managed to survive due to her pregnancy. I know that things are going to get grim but nothing is really known about what happened to her family or baby at this point, although I know enough about the history to know that it wasn’t anything good. Jonathon made the choice to let this breathe as a story told by Anna, so there are very few word balloons and a few times when he briefly pops into the story to try to get more details out of Anna or to ask her if she’d like to take a break. It’s impossible to avoid comparison to Maus when you’re talking about a comic set in World War II, and in the early stages I’d say that this has the potential to be as important as that. Who knows how people will actually receive it, but this is a story that needs to be told, especially as things get worse in Europe again. The recent anti-gay marriage marches have shown that homophobia and racism are right there under the surface, and it needs to be made clear to this generation that something like this could happen again, sadly enough. Humanity never seems to learn. On that cheery note, give this comic a shot. I think this is self-published and it deserves a wider audience. Oh, and I didn’t make it clear in the review, so I should mention that this is all based on conversations with Anna, but that some things are fictional, or events that happened at the time but not necessarily to Anna. $10