In this deceptively simple and colour-filled graphic novel, we are introduced to the author’s family history as seen through the eyes of five female members at fifteen. The book starts in 1908 with Weng Pixin’s great-grandmother Kuan in China. Her story is followed by the narratives of her grandmother Mei in 1947, her mother Bing in 1972, herself in 1998, and the imagined story of Pixin’s future daughter in 2032. The fact that we are shown, rather than are able to attend to their verbalizations, is an indication of the struggles this matrilineal family has, and continues to face, with silence as their paramount defense in all aspects of their lives. “She grew to quiet her voice, just so she could survive.”
While the stories are not completely based on her female family members due to the silence and lack of family stories, Pixin extrapolates the histories and uses her art to explore the concealed and stifled personal struggles that had traditionally been internalized, subdued, and hidden from others in her lineage. It is through her art and the telling of these stories that Pixin delves into the rationale behind the harrowing and negative relationship she had always had with her own mother. These stories are told in a series of vignettes, moving both forward and backwards in time, each exploring key and interrelated elements in the lives of the five characters. This arrangement effectively illuminates the inter-generational complexities of societal expectations, family dysfunction as well as successes, and reveals how they are transferred from one generation to another. The themes that resonate within these vignettes are the love of nature and animals, a sense of alienation from the adult world, the suppression of trauma, and the sanctuary of artistic expression to compensate for the silence that predominated each of their lives. The breaking of that silence and the understanding of the causes of the frustrations and anger that seems insurmountable is the valuable undertaking that Pixin and her imaginary daughter explore with the fragments of the family history that they can find. “I wonder also what it would be like to live in a world where you have no control over your life.”
Pixin’s illustrations, painted in bold and vibrant colours, are reminiscent of folk art, focusing primarily on domestic settings. Included in the panels are extreme close-ups, recurring images of crickets, and the daily chores of each of the teenagers within their time frames. The layout of the panels is not static, but, while fairly conventional, it is also reflective of an uncomplicated and straightforward narration that combines to engage the reader in unanticipated observation and mediation. This is not a book that should be read quickly, but savoured. The ambiguity of the stories being told adds to the appreciation of the book as a whole. The occasional full-page panels add to the awareness of this being a work of art and passion. The occasional dialogue offers additional snippets of information about each of the characters, their motivations, and their challenges, but it is not the driving force for this graphic novel. It is the images, and the silences within the panels and illustrations, that ultimately carry the story.
Recommended for high school library collections, public library collections, and collections on memoir, family histories, and Chinese creators and history.
Let’s Not Talk Anymore
By Weng Pixin
Drawn & Quarterly, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 16 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Chinese
Character Representation: Chinese