Put this graphic novel on the top of your reading pile for books on immigrant experiences. Call up your book club and make sure this book makes this year’s list. Stock up on copies of this book to give out to friends and strangers. Jérôme Ruillier’s graphic novel, The Strange, is a fictionalized account of an immigrant’s experience trying to create a new life for his family, surviving in a country where most people see immigrants as statistics at best and criminals at worst. It is a timely and timeless story that is all too relevant.
The Strange is set in a non-specific country with a main character, “The Strange,” who is fleeing from an unnamed country with hopes of creating a better life for his wife and children. The Strange doesn’t know the country’s language but must navigate finding a job, a place to live, and food. He is lonely, afraid, tired, and sick, and he depends on the kindness of strangers for basic necessities. But not all strangers are kind; in fact, few are. Some pretend not to notice him, while others take advantage of him, feel threatened by him, and report him. This is a story of many downs with few ups, based on the true experiences of immigrants.
By referring to the main character as “The Strange” and other immigrants as “stranges,” Ruillier draws attention to our tendency to label the unknown: immigrants, aliens, foreigners, illegals, etc. By labeling this demographic, we are identifying them as “other,” rather than recognizing our shared experiences. Much of what Ruilliers portrays in the story are emotions that are common to anyone—fear, loneliness, shame, and cowardice—interspersed with occasional hope, bravery, and compassion. By relying on a third-person narrative, Ruillier further emphasizes that immigrants aren’t always given a voice. It also shows that each of us is responsible for how we interact with others, and that indifference can be just as harmful as explicit xenophobia.
Ruillier uses colored pencil drawings and a limited color palette to allow the art to become a backdrop and the story to become the focus. With rough sketches of buildings, streets, and characters rather than intricate penned and colored details, the reader spends more time following the story than getting drawn into the minutiae of the art. Ruillier also uses anthropomorphism to portray his characters, which removes the necessity to depict otherness through outward aesthetics.
This graphic novel is not rated. The content is suitable for middle grade readers and up, but older teens and adults will likely get the most out of the sophisticated storytelling. It would be an ideal graphic novel for a library book club and perfect for a display on immigrant experiences. It’s an important addition to a library’s graphic novel collection, both for validating the experiences of immigrants and for offering insight and awareness to “natives.” For a wonderful read-alike, look up The Arrival, Shaun Tan’s wordless graphic novel on an immigrant experience.
by Jérôme Ruillier
Translated by Helge Dascher
Drawn & Quarterly, 2018