Comics have a remarkable ability to bring first person accounts of inhumanity into an emotional focus, in a way that newspaper and television reports can’t. Art Spiegelman‘s Maus remains the finest example, documenting his father’s account of living through the Holocaust, though there have been plenty of others.
Malik Sajad joins this extraordinary roster of graphic biographers with Munnu, the story of his own life growing up in Kashmir, which has been fought over by India and Pakistan for decades. The politics are intensely complex, with India, Pakistan and China laying claims to the region, while the Kashmiri people want, fight and die for independence. To help us differentiate the nationalities in his book, Sajad uses a humanised version of the endangered Hangul – a type of deer – to portray his Kashmiri characters, while other nationalities have a human appearance.
As a boy growing up in an artisanal household, Sajad understands nothing of the politics, knowing only that curfews and crackdowns could see his father or older siblings disappearing at any time, while the resistance movement is pushing young men into the meat grinder. Sajad survives and thrives, though, taking up political cartooning and eventually creating the graphic novel we’re reviewing here to spread word of the horror of life in Kashmir to the outside world.
The story is a tough read because it shines a light on a conflict we hear little about from the perspective of the people on the ground. Munnu makes for a great primer, though, not just because it contains a historical perspective from the side of an oppressed people, but because it documents the every day life and horror of a family living through it.