Birgit Weyhe’s Madgermanes is a book in the vein of Joe Sacco’s most recent graphic work, Paying the Land, in that what we have here is a book of graphic reportage on a story that you might not be familiar with but that has ramifications and resonances for the world in which we find ourselves.
Where Sacco interrogated the ways in which Native Americans and Native Canadians were abused, Weyhe’s book concerns natives of Mozambique who took part in an initiative between “two socialist sister states”, Mozambique and Germany. Basically, a shedload of people left their homes to go and work in Germany where they were housed and given pittance wages in the knowledge that they would receive the larger part of their wages either when they returned home or at a later date. Of course, the monies have all since disappeared, if they ever existed.
Amalgamating many stories she was told into three ostensibly made-up characters allows Weyhe to speak for people who otherwise don’t have a voice (and who, quite possibly, may be involved with court cases trying to reclaim the money stolen from them). And so we follow ‘Jose’, ‘Basilio’ and ‘Annabella’, as they leave their homes, as they take jobs and try to better themselves, as they find love, as they fall out one with the other, and as they return home, or stay, only to find themselves creatures of neither world.
Weyhe does not overwhelm the reader with words or details. Her art, expressed in almost clay-like duotone, serves to keep the story front and centre. This is one of those cases where the story is enough. It also serves as an another reminder of how people need people, how society needs people, to function, irrespective of where those people come from. I read this book as the fall-out from Brexit started to be known, with idiots scrapping over their place in a queue on petrol forecourts all over the country, as Government – this terrible, ugly, ignorant Government of rich Etonians, attempts to flatter and cajole the very people it sent away not six months ago, to just help us through a difficult patch before we send them home again at Christmas. This, I thought to myself, is where racism gets you.
So: read Madgermanes. Soak yourself in other people’s stories. Absorb some important history. Broaden your horizons. However wide your perspective, it can always be wider. However progressive you consider yourself to be, you can always be more progressive. And if you’re an idiot who tars vast swathes of people with a single brush, maybe read this (because reading something other than online conspiracy theories will help you) and learn something.
Any Cop?: It’s a sad and terrible story in many ways, albeit beautifully wrought and beautifully told.