Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Behind the Curtain

A pre-teen girl like Yael should never feel compelled to follow current events so closely. However, she understands how news reports could drastically impact her, as the daughter of a Jewish mother growing up in late 1930s/early 1940s France. She and her little sister are only half-Jewish, but she suspects that will be more than enough to count for the new regime, just as it has been for her father’s estranged parents. It is a sad burden for a child to carry in writer-artist Sara del Giudice’s graphic novel Behind the Curtain, which is now on-sale in digital formats.

Initially, Yael and Emilie grew up in a very social household filled with guests and select family members. Unfortunately, the parties tapered off as their beloved mother’s health deteriorated. With her death, they saw their family on their maternal side much less often, especially after her father remarried Ophelie, whom Yael considered a pretty blonde ditz. She also suspects she half-spied her father with her new stepmother, in a somewhat compromising position, while her mother was still alive.

However, Ophelie is not a threat to the girls. In fact, she will be quite concerned for their safety when France surrenders to Germany. As a veteran, who was married to their Jewish mother, their father is also in some danger. Frankly, everyone recognizes the potential peril, but they respond cautiously—too cautiously.

Unlike similar narratives,
Behind the Curtain almost entirely focuses on the years leading up to the notorious round-ups. Throughout most of the graphic novel, Yael and her sister lead mostly normal lives, but her increasing awareness of the rising tide of anti-Semitism makes it all bittersweet and eventually quite ominous.

Frankly, you might think you know where del Giudice’s story is headed—and you probably do—but the way she builds up to it is honestly devastating. Yael definitely acts like an immature girl on many occasions, very much like Anne Frank, but that makes her human, especially in light of her increased awareness of the hostile world around her.

The French-Italian del Giudice’s muted colors and retro-illustrated style give the graphic novel a fittingly sophisticated, continental vibe. She also has a keen sense of what to suggest rather than show. This would absolutely be appropriate to give bright pre-teens who appreciated
The Diary of Anne Frank and enjoyed Persepolis. Adults should also get a lot out of it, especially in the way it reminds us how children understand more than we tend to assume. Highly recommended, Behind the Curtain is now available from online retailers.