This graphic novel was adapted from a film version of Deborah Ellis’ novel The Breadwinner. The novel is actually part of a series much acclaimed in Canada, and based on this graphic novel version of the first volume, I can understand why. It is visually gorgeous, and the story, which is based on things Ellis learned while touring an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan in 1997, is gripping. The Breadwinner is the story of an 11-year-old girl named Parvana who has to disguise herself as a boy in order to take care of her family in the wake of the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan.
The story opens in May, 2001, at a bazaar in Kabul, which is under Taliban rule. Parvana sits with her father, a teacher, as they try to sell the few items they have in order to feed the family: Mama, Baba, Parvana, her older teenaged sister Soraya, and her little brother Zaki. In addition to a few items, Parvana’s father has a skill to sell: he can read and write in Pashto and Dari for others. Parvana has also received an education, but under Taliban rule, those days are over. Members of the Taliban harass Parvana and her father, and later they come to their home and arrest Baba. This is deadly for the family. Women and girls are not to be seen or heard on the streets without a man and must be covered head to toe or risk being arrested themselves. The family now has no access to food or money, and they cannot visit Baba in jail or find a way to get him out. Parvana decides the only solution is to cut off her hair, dress as a boy, and continue her father’s work in the bazaar. While there one day, she encounters an old friend who is also disguising herself as a boy. Shauzia is trying to save up enough money to move away from her oppressive father; her goal is to live by the sea. Meanwhile, Mama has contacted relatives for help, hoping that they will arrange a marriage for Soraya and get the family out of Kabul. Parvana is determined to visit her father in prison and get him out using the money she has earned to bribe the guards. At the end of the novel, relatives have come to rescue the family, but Baba and Parvana are not there. The cousins will not wait because war is coming and roads will soon be blocked. Parvana has found her way to the prison and her father, but he is broken and possibly dying. What will happen to Parvana, Baba, the family and Shauzia?
The visuals in this book are gorgeous. No illustrator is named and since director Nora Twomey is also listed on the cover, I am guessing that the illustrations are stills from the film version (released in 2017, executive-produced by Angelina Jolie, nominated for an Oscar). Much of the color scheme is drab earth tones like brown, tan and gray. As a result, when colors appear, such as when Parvana’s father tells stories of their history, these colors are vibrant and pop from the page.
I am so impressed with this novel and by what I’ve read about author Ellis, I plan to make a trip to the bookstore this week to purchase copies of the four novels in the series. [To my knowledge, graphic novel versions of the other volumes are not available.] I want to know the deeper backstory on Parvana and her family and to find out what happens to them and other children caught up in war. This graphic novel is definitely pitched toward kids in vocabulary, but be warned that it does show violence and trauma. I think kids can handle it and perhaps will be better informed citizens than we are if they learn about this part of the world from a young age.