We Are on Our Own

( 3 )


A stunning memoir of a mother and her daughter's survival in WWII and their subsequent lifelong struggle with faith

In this captivating and elegantly illustrated graphic memoir, Miriam Katin retells the story of her and her mother's escape on foot from the Nazi invasion of Budapest. With her father off fighting for the Hungarian army and the German troops quickly approaching, Katin and her mother are forced to flee to the countryside after faking their deaths. Leaving behind all...

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A stunning memoir of a mother and her daughter's survival in WWII and their subsequent lifelong struggle with faith

In this captivating and elegantly illustrated graphic memoir, Miriam Katin retells the story of her and her mother's escape on foot from the Nazi invasion of Budapest. With her father off fighting for the Hungarian army and the German troops quickly approaching, Katin and her mother are forced to flee to the countryside after faking their deaths. Leaving behind all of their belongings and loved ones, and unable to tell anyone of their whereabouts, they disguise themselves as a Russian servant and illegitimate child, while literally staying a few steps ahead of the German soldiers.

We Are on Our Own is a woman's attempt to rebuild her earliest childhood trauma in order to come to an understanding of her lifelong questioning of faith. Katin's faith is shaken as she wonders how God could create and tolerate such a wretched world, a world of fear and hiding, bargaining and theft, betrayal and abuse. The complex and horrific experiences on the run are difficult for a child to understand, and as a child, Katin saw them with the simple longing, sadness, and curiosity she felt when her dog ran away or a stranger made her mother cry. Katin's ensuing lifelong struggle with faith is depicted throughout the book in beautiful full-color sequences.

We Are on Our Own is the first full-length graphic novel by Katin, at the age of sixty-three.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This moving WWII memoir is the debut graphic novel from Katin, an animator for Disney and MTV. It tells the story of toddler Katin-here called Lisa-and her mother, Esther Levy, Hungarian Jews who must flee Nazi persecution. With her husband off fighting in the Hungarian army, Esther is forced to abandon all their belongings and take on the identity of a servant girl with a bastard child. She survives however she can-whether making alterations on the bloodstained uniforms of dead soldiers or surrendering her body to an adulterous German officer. Katin shows Esther's harrowing experiences with an objective eye, but her own experience of the time is the fragmented memory of a child; unable to understand the vast tragedy unfolding around her, she focuses on the loss of a pet dog. The story flashes forward to the '70s and even later to show the long-term effects on Katin and her family's faith. Katin's art is an impressionistic swirl; early scenes in sophisticated Budapest recall the elegance of Helen Hokinson, while the chaos of war is captured in dark, chaotic compositions reminiscent of Kathe Kollwitz. This book is a powerful reminder of the lingering price of survival. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Francisca Goldsmith
Hungarian Jews did not experience the direct effects of Nazi genocide until late in the war. In Katin's memoir, the story of her mother's and her own flight from their middle class life in Budapest begins in1944. Jews have been ordered to surrender their pets. Barely three-year-old Lisa-the child Katin was-is relatively well protected from the first of what will be a string of losses of beloved dogs in her life, but the reader follows her mother on the cruel and absurd mission to obey the law by handing over Rexxy and then going home to list the contents of their apartment, which also must be abandoned. Across the next year, mother and daughter hide as Christian peasants, meet Russians who rape many villagers whom they are liberating (including Lisa's mother), wander war-scarred Europe, and are miraculously reunited with Lisa's father. Katin recounts this story in soft pencil, using color only in those moments when the flag under which her destiny lies changes as those in power change, and to highlight brief scenes from her adult life as she tries to understand how to inculcate faith in her own young child. Without the allegorical distance of Art Spiegelman's Maus (Pantheon, 1986), Katin's story shares some of its themes, including wrestling with faith against the memory of annihilation, the roles that parenthood plays for the grown child and that adult child's relationship with the previous generation, and an unerring balance between image and well-chosen word, making it impossible for the reader to stop moving where the story goes, despite its pain and unvarnished truth.
Kirkus Reviews
Mother and daughter go on the run in Nazi-occupied Hungary, then endure the Russian occupation. It would be difficult to conceive of Katin's debut as anything but a graphic novel, given the strength of its visuals, but a straight-text approach might have been wiser. Her story is obviously dramatic. In Budapest circa 1944, when Miriam is a young girl, her mother, Esther, decides to avoid the impending Nazi roundup of Jews by faking their deaths and escaping to the countryside with forged papers. But things hardly improve outside the city, where villagers treat them no better in their new identities, taking their dark features to mean they're gypsies. To make matters worse, a Nazi officer quickly figures out the Katins' secret and uses it as a means of prying sexual favors from Esther. Hard circumstances turn desperate once the Red Army sweeps through, exhibiting the morals of drunken Vikings; Esther joins the starving, freezing villagers as they take clothes off soldiers' corpses. She does her best to conceal all these horrific events from little Miriam, though the best she can manage is to induce a sort of baffled confusion. Katin's episodic approach conveys events with an admirable economy at times, but often just hurries the reader through situations that could have used more explanation or context. The artwork's smeared, sketchy quality contributes to this sense of undue haste. It may be that Katin chose the graphic form because of her background (she was a graphic artist in Israel and a background designer for Disney and MTV) rather than because it was the best vehicle for her story. However, the author's pain is difficult to ignore, regardless of the limitations of her approach andher sometimes melodramatic tone. A problematic but powerful Holocaust survival memoir.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781896597201
  • Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
  • Publication date: 5/16/2006
  • Pages: 136
  • Sales rank: 675,242
  • Product dimensions: 8.17 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Hungary during WWII, Miriam Katin immigrated to Israel in 1957 where she served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a graphic artist. She has lived in New York City since 1990, working as a background designer for MTV and Disney.

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