Sunday, March 19, 2023

Two Graphic Novels by Michel Kichka

 Michel Kichka is a left leaning Israeli cartoonist. I happened to read two of his autobiographical works that are published as graphic novels- Second Generation and Falafel With Hot Sauce. Second generation is a book about his relationship with his father who is a Holocaust survivor. Falafel With Hot Sauce is about his relationship with Israel to which he immigrated from Belgium. 

Kichka decided to produce Second Generation after reading Maus, another impressive autobiographical graphic novel in which Art Spiegelman wrote about his father, also a survivor. While in Maus, Spiegelman narrates the experiences of his father in the concentration camp, Kichka tries to ruminate on the effects of his father's experience on him and his family. 

Michel's father never talked to him about his past- how his entire family, except him was wiped out and how he survived inhuman atrocities of the Third Reich. Michel figured most of it himself, by reading his father's collection of books, from his caricatures that he drew and his many idiosyncrasies and rants about his sufferings that were tolerated because he was 'in the camps'. I believe all his attempts to identify with his father took him closer to his Jewish identity. 

Henri Kichka, father of Michel Kichka

After immigrating to Israel and starting his own family there, one day Michel wakes up to hear the news of his brother Charly's suicide. After that his father opens up about his experiences and soon becomes a public figure, doing talks and writing books on his experiences. Michel feels his brother was the victim of Second Generation Syndrome and feels his father's behavior has shifted the focus from Charly. From a belated letter from Charly, he infers that unhappy childhood was one reason for his death. Slowly over time he mends his relationship with his father, promising to visit Auschwitz with him. 

It is interesting to note that the book that starts on a dinner table ends in another one. Most of the major happenings in the novel are around dining tables were the mood alternates. But it is assuring to see the last one that emit acceptance and compassion. Second Generation is a very sensible portrayal of a delicate relationship. It never falls into the trap of sentimentality or sensationalism. Drawn fully in black and white, the narration, interspersed with a sprinkling of humor, is very tight and poignant. 

We see a young Michel tasting a helping of Falafel with hot sauce on his first vacation to Israel in the opening pages of his second graphic novel, aptly titled as Falafel With Hot Sauce. At that moment, he learns his first lesson- 'In Israel, what you see isn't always what you get'. The book builds up on this lesson and chronicles his bittersweet relationship with Israel. 

Michel grew up in Belgium according to Jewish tradition. After his visits to Israel and identifying with its struggle to stand up and walk, he decides to drop out of his architecture degree and immigrate. He pursues a degree of art in Jerusalem. In an Israel, which was fastly turning to a far right ideology, he decides to stay a left leaning cartoonists. The first half of the book is details of his integration into the country and second half features his rebellion as a leftist cartoonist. But finally he asserts his love for his country and how his attempts for peace are born out of that love. 

Falafel With Hot Sauce is more dynamic and far reaching in its political scope when compared to the more personal Second Generation. But Michel Kichka keeps the narration very much rooted to the humane aspect of life. Irony of the valuable lesson after his first Falafel is explored in several angles throughout the book- in his social interactions, his personal life and also his political assertions through his cartoons. He chronicles his tryst with the history of Israel in a deeply affectionate, though strictly honest manner. 

Michel Kichka

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