Saturday, July 4, 2020

#BookReview: The Photographer of Mauthausen by Salva Rubio, Pedro J. Colombo, and Aintzane Landa

Historical Graphic Novel
Biographic Fiction
War Era Fiction

This is a dramatic retelling of true events in the life of Francisco Boix, a Spanish press photographer and communist who fled to France at the beginning of World War II. But there, he found himself handed over by the French to the Nazis, who sent him to the notorious Mauthausen concentration camp, where he spent the war among thousands of other Spaniards and other prisoners. More than half of them would lose their lives there. Through an odd turn of events, Boix finds himself the confidant of an SS officer who is documenting prisoner deaths at the camp. Boix realizes that he has a chance to prove Nazi war crimes by stealing the negatives of these perverse photos—but only at the risk of his own life, that of a young Spanish boy he has sworn to protect, and, indeed, that of every prisoner in the camp.

I was not familiar with Francisco Boix’s story before picking up The Photographer of Mauthausen, but the graphic novel struck such chords that I doubt I will ever forget it.

The book offers insight into the lives of Mauthausen's political prisoners and the protocols designed to exterminate them through hard labor. The artistry of the panels chronicles these realities, and while I found some of the illustrations challenging to absorb, I could not help but appreciate the care and dedicated resolve Rubio, Colombo, and Landa exhibit in their handling of the material.

I am drawn to themes when reading, and more than once lost myself in the ideas this story provoked. I was intrigued by the manufacture of visual propaganda as explored in the early portion of the novel, but I was also moved by the narrative's approach to the transformative effects of desperation, survivor guilt, and the question of how to chronicle experience to individuals who did not share in it.

It would be a crime not to mention supporting characters like Mateu and Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier, but their roles are very straightforward. Francisco represents something entirely different. He is a man forced to make hard choices, a man who lives in the shadow of death both before and after the war, and a man forced to navigate a world unready to hear his story. I could not recall seeing this sort of experience fictionalized before, and I liked how the layering of his realities forced me to consider both the handling of war crimes in the post-war years and the varied experiences of Holocaust victims.  

Highly recommended.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: July 4, 2020

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