Amazona is a newly translated graphic novel written and illustrated by Canizales, a Columbian illustrator. This book tells a powerful story of a young Indigenous woman in Columbia on a mission to expose an illegal mining operation that has forced her family from their village.
The book opens in Cali, Colombia, where Andrea shares a 600 square foot apartment with 37 others. They are pushed into the shadows of the city, forced to steal bright pink mangoes from a nearby tree for sustenance. Their lives here are not sustainable. They are meant to be in the homes forcibly taken from them, deep in the rainforest.
Andrea sets out on her own, with a jaguar from her dreams as her guide, across the difficult terrain, to their sacred lands. An imposing fence and armed guards surround the land, devoid of vegetation and life. After begging for entry, she is reluctantly given permission to bury a baby she recently lost but sneaks in a camera to gather evidence against the illegal miners.
She is on a mission to take pictures of the illegal mining operations to share with a lawyer in the hope that her community can return home. Activism against violence, corruption, and human rights violations often involve difficult court battles. Andrea’s story is fictional but not unique. According to Amazona’s back matter, the Indigenous peoples of Columbia often face displacement, extreme poverty, and violence. A number of organizations and individuals advocate for the rights of displaced peoples. Even as they fight, many have no home to return to after their lands have been stripped of vegetation and life. Their work is difficult and often dangerous. In Amazona, Andrea is sexually assaulted and threatened with rape or murder; according to the back matter an estimated 500 activists were murdered between 2016 and 2019.
The illustrations carry much of the emotional weight. Canizales illustrates this story in shades of gray with occasional splashes of red and pink. The effect is powerful. Andrea’s village in the rainforests of Columbia should be vibrant and full of life, however when the mining operation strips the land from her people, with it they take all life and color.
The illustrations include many elements painted in watercolor and few images are enclosed in traditional panels. This unique style draws readers into the emotion of the scene. Flashbacks to moments in the middle of the night are saturated in black. Details are hidden in the dark. The pages are filled with terror and sadness. Later in the story, in a moment of dread, hope comes in the form of a red jaguar-eyed butterfly as it lands on a hard black gun. It is a powerful and beautifully illustrated scene.
This is a definite purchase for my high school library collection. I have students who are refugees from this area of the world, and it is important that they see stories such as this in our collection. Other students may read this story and put a human face to the plight of Indigenous communities in Colombia and elsewhere. It is a beautifully written and illustrated story about living through trauma and violence. I highly recommend it for teen and adult graphic novel collections.
Graphic Universe, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Colombian
Character Representation: Colombian