With Only Five Plums Book 1: The Time Before
Art by: Jonathon Riddle
Publisher: Self published
First published: 2013
This first of three books isn’t so much a graphic novel as a graphic interview. Anna Nesporova was one of the last living survivors of the World War II atrocity of Lidice, a small village in Czechoslovakia, which faced the full terror of the Nazi invasion in 1942. By way of a few small twists of fate, Anna’s family is the cornerstone of the terror, because her brother was a soldier who fled the country to try and avoid bringing unwanted attention to his family, but was later accused of helping the resistance, putting the town of Lidice on the Nazi map.
The book is based on an interview with Anna, conducted by Terry Eisele, and is presented as a monologue in her own words. This first book starts in the time before the invasion, with Anna remembering all the good times she had as a teenager and young woman, but it soon dissolves into the chaos of the invasion and occupation. Anna escapes some of the worst of the Nazis’ evil because she’s pregnant, though harsh realities hit home after she’s given birth.
A comparison with Maus is an obvious one to make, though the two are very different. Art Speigelman’s classic is as much about him as his father’s time in Auschwitz and this book really isn’t about the interviewer, though he does make an appearance from time to time. Instead it focuses almost entirely on Anna’s account of what happened.
Because of this, the pictures can take something of a back seat to Anna’s transcribed account, making the book more of a heavily illustrated transcript than what we might normally expect to see in a graphic novel. It’s is no bad thing though – the illustrations bring life to the raw emotion of Anna’s words and help us understand the horror.
It’s a fascinating read, a valuable first-hand account into the systematic horror of the Nazi invasion, and an eloquent monument to the tragedy and bravery of Anna and the people of Lidice.
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