For anyone who has not followed recent Russian history very closely, The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks are eye openers. Drawn and written by acclaimed Italian graphic artist Igort, they are the result of two years he spent traveling in the Ukraine and Russia listening to people’s stories.
The Ukrainian Notebook focuses on the Stalin-era Holodomor. This was a government-caused famine imposed on the Kulaks—the Ukrainian farmers who owned their own land—to force them into collectivization. At the time, Ukraine was a rich agricultural region, but by the time the Soviets had finished, millions had starved or been deported to Siberia and the land was a desert. The notebooks tell some stories of the survivors as well as stories about the modern effects on the country.
The Russian Notebook focuses on state-sponsored assassinations, rapes, and kidnappings that are going on under Putin. In particular, it starts with the murder of human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya and her attempts to help the Chechens. Then it goes on to explore the cause of the Chechens.
Finally, the book ends with an epilogue about the more current situation in Ukraine and the Russian “mandate” to take it back.
Since my husband and I are interested in Russia, these notebooks didn’t surprise us, but they may surprise people who are less aware of the recent history of Russia. Igort has written about a lot of other subjects, but his drawing style particularly suits this one.
One small comment about the cartoons. The text is translated, I assume from Italian, and very well done. The text in the illustrations, however, has an occasional typo, and the transliterations of some words from the Russian alphabet are nonstandard with Russian typos, too. For example, on one page, the Russian word “gazetta,” or magazine, is written with the character for “n” instead of “g.” This is a quibble, however, for what is a pair of effective and shocking graphic novels.