So, I’ve broken my book buying ban with only one fucking day to go in the month. Why did I do it? Because I knew that I wouldn’t finish either of the books I’ve got on the go by the time I had to write this review. So, I popped into my local bookshop to see if I could find a quick read that looked interesting. I found it in the small selection of graphic novels and, after reading the quote on the front, decided I couldn’t not read it. “A story of courage and heroism to inspire young people everywhere.” I mean who could ignore an endorsement like that? Especially when the back cover reveals that Malala Yousafzai was also a fan. The graphic novel version of Deborah Ellis’ The Breadwinner is actually the adaptation of the 2018 animated film based on the book. So, I have just read the novelisation of a film I haven’t seen that was based on a book I haven’t read. Whatever could go wrong?
The Breadwinner is set in Kabul in 2001 when Afghanistan is under Taliban rule. It tells the story of 11-year-old Parvana and her family. Parvana’s father is forced to sell goods on the side of the road to support his family and uses his younger daughter to help him. After a run-in with a young member of the Taliba, Parvana’s father is arrested without good cause. The family now have no adult male relative so the female are unable to go out of the house. With the help of her elder sister, Parvana is transformed to disguise her as a boy. She is then able to go out to buy food and attempt to make a living. In order to keep them safe, Parvana’s mother makes arrangements for the family to move away but she is too concerned about her father to agree to go. Can she save her father before it’s too late? Or will she be forced to leave with the rest of her family?
The basic premise of The Breadwinner is a fantastic one. It is impossible not to be caught up in the desperate need for a young girl to pretend to be a boy in order to keep the family afloat. It is a tale of courage and sacrifice that tells an important story about humanity. It is a tale full of emotions and danger, which sits in very recent history. The Breadwinner is dealing with powerful ideas and the story is engaging. However, I can’t help but feel this isn’t the correct format for the subject matter. I know this is a graphic novel based on a film that itself is based on a novel so it’s safe to say this will be a very watered down version. There is no escaping that the whole narrative feels rushed and very simplistic. We don’t really get a sense of the characters or their situation. It’s often difficult to understand what is going on in a scene until a few panels later. Sometimes it’s as if a few panels have been missed or a large chunk of the story has been forgotten. And the ending feels very abrupt and unfinished. I just wish it could have been more.
This is a tale that is full of emotion but you don’t really feel the emotional pull in this format. Even if this is a version for younger readers, it doesn’t really do the best with the material at hand. It feels as though it would take a lot of additional knowledge or explanation to help young readers understand. And there are so many threads that just stay hanging. There is no real resolution to any of the story and no real sense of the purpose of the novel. Yes, it’s teaching us about being strong and brave in difficult situations: about doing what you need to do to survive. But there is so much missing or glossed over. It doesn’t seem to go far enough to teach a reader about this era. Maybe it would do the job as a conversation starter but nothing more.
Although, I have to say the illustrations are quite wonderful. The characters themselves feels realistic and the settings are all beautiful. I love the use of lighting and the way movement is suggested. What this book lacks in depth it certainly makes up for with it aesthetic. But, again, this just makes me feel as though you should just watch the film. My main issue with this book is that I don’t understand why it exists if the story has already been told in other forms. Especially other forms that would be more fitting to tell the tale fully.