“We applaud it” – Mongrel by Sayra Begum

“We live in an age in which there is too much information, less knowledge and even less wisdom. That ratio needs to be reversed. We definitely need less information, more knowledge and much more wisdom.”

I recently read Elif Shafak’s excellent piece of nonfiction, How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division (and highly recommend you read it too) and the above advice comes from that. One of the ways that Shafak argues we get ahead of the place in which we are is by stepping outside of our own world, by exploring and examining others that are foreign or alien to us, by welcoming pluralism in all its forms, by resisting the echo chamber. One way you can follow Shafak’s advice is by reading Sayra Begum’s engrossing graphic memoir, Mongrel.

What we have is a book that is part Persepolis and part highly personal memoir (to the extent that there are several portions in which the author cannot let herself share information and we see instead redacted blackness), a la Becoming Unbecoming by Una. This is a book about the author’s childhood within a home that was led by a gentle father and a stern mother, and the effect this has upon a girl and her brother, each of whom eventually find their own ways to rebel. This is a powerful story of a daughter and a mother, complicated by the effect of a belief that a single foot off the track and into sin is enough to propel not just a daughter or a son but an entire family into the pit of hell for all eternity.

Its vivid stuff, made all the more compelling by the fluidity of Begum’s line and, as you can see above, the way images blend one into the other.

Mongrel is one of those books you would wish into the hands of someone who doesn’t normally read, who is busy protesting in London about wearing face masks or, better still, into the hands of anyone who feels the need to invade a place refugees are being held in order to terrorise them, in the (probably vague) hope that it would change them. Look, you want to say. There is difference in the world. It’s ok. Find out about other people’s experiences. Learn from them. Don’t shut and bolt the door and demand others shut and bolt their doors too.

Any Cop?: Stern, serious and thoughtful, Mongrel is one of those graphic novels busy moving the form on, busy making important points, busy urging the world to be better. We applaud it.


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