In Poppies of Iraq, Brigette Finkakly tells the story of her childhood in Mosul, Iraq during the political turmoil of the 1960s and 70s. After her family emigrates to France, she watches as the rise of Saddam Hussein and the accompanying upheaval impact her family. As she reflects on her home country today, Finkakly mixes personal narrative, historical context, and cultural information into a thoughtful, if somewhat fragmented, narrative.
Toward the end of Poppies of Iraq, Findakly remarks that she loved the moments when her family was together, and Poppies of Iraq’s strength lies in those family stories. Woven with historical context, Findakly’s family stories reveal the impact of the political unrest and cultural differences on people’s lives and freedom. Poppies of Iraq reveals these details in a quiet and reflective way; it is definitely a work to read carefully because it can be easy to miss the significance of the individual stories.
Although the personal narrative sections are solid, Poppies of Iraq has excess material that does not consistently contribute to the narrative. Throughout the book, there are brief interludes that reveal cultural facts about Iraq. For example, one section explains that sometimes relatives will give a sterile family member a baby to raise—a fact that has no real bearing on the narrative. Although the random cultural facts are usually interesting, they break up the story’s flow and prevent a real narrative arc from forming.
Lewis Trondheim’s simple artwork effectively conveys the narrative. Trondheim eschews traditional panels, and the illustrations are arranged fluidly on the page with corresponding text above. Due to the book’s small size, the simple illustrations work well, and Findakly’s flat, soft colors enhance the narrative’s quiet tone.The book also includes some small photographs of Findakly’s family. It is possible to distinguish major characters, but a lack of captions and poor image quality prevents consistent identification or comprehension of the images. This review is based on an advance copy, so it is possible that the photographs will be clearer in the final version.
It is difficult to pinpoint an age range for Poppies of Iraq: there is no particularly questionable content, but the narrative’s fragmented structure and some of the cultural and historical references—which aren’t always full clarified—lead the reviewer to believe that adult audiences would be most likely to enjoy this work. Poppies of Iraq may especially interest readers who enjoyed works such as Marjane Satrape’s Persepolis or Zeina Abirached’s Game of Swallows—both of which focus on the authors’ lives in the Middle East.
Poppies of Iraq
by Brigette Findakly Lewis Trondheim
Art by Lewis Trondheim
Drawn & Quarterly, 2017