Books | Culture

Book Review: Rachel Karafistan & Kamil Macejko’s “My Parents Are Not My Real Parents” (Centrala, 2017) – ‘truly unique’

Rating:

20/02/2019

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It’s difficult to say what kind of book My Parents really is. Judging by its cover, occupied by wallowing yellow hair and a lot of pink, naked flesh, suspicions are it’s a pop-coloured graphic novel that’s, somehow, a bit naughty. If that’s your assumption, you’d be wrong though. On the first few pages, author Rachel Karafistan explains the rationale behind My Parents with a short essay, which frames the colourful images to follow. What the book’s about, in a nutshell, is the myths and stories that children make-up in order to make sense of the world and the rules that adults impose on them. For Karafistan, ‘in these times when new and unexpected things divide us, where life leaves little room for imagination, these beliefs can remind us of our common roots and of how creative we used to be.’

csm_myParents_cover_net-640x640_606985fc86Creating a collection of these stories – as they’re remembered by adults – was a lengthy process. It took Karafistan and Macejko 15 years and three cities (Poznán, London and Berlin), of getting the material together, making a selection, and illustrating it. The result’s a small selection that put Karafistan’s theories of myth-making, rituals and childhood into practice.

Spread across double pages, each childhood myth’s both written down and illustrated. On the surface, image and text seamlessly integrate into one another. Often, the typography even merges with the image. The text’s always shown in three languages – Polish, English, German – which in principle is wonderful, but in practice sometimes causes confusion; especially when the text’s been split, so that you’d first read a couple of words in English, then in Polish, then in German, before finding your way back to the language you started with. Once all the different pieces assemble into sentences, though, the message’s often laugh-out-loud funny, like: Always eat your dinner. Remember every meal is a family. They don’t want to be separated just because you aren’t hungry. With this ‘explanation’ in front of us, it’s easily remembered how we all rationalised the things our parents said to us. The stories show the curious minds of children, and how they’re making sense of the rules that adults confront them with, without logical explanation. And even though children’s made-up explanations may seem hilarious now, it’s easy to recall how it felt when they were ‘true’: As a kind of aid to our memory of childhood, My Parents reminds us of old feelings, and of the magic- and myth-making that seemed perfectly normal as a child.

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The thing is, though, that the book already harbours those funny reminders in the sentences alone. In most of the examples, the images don’t really seem necessary to the story and, very occasionally, even distract from our own picturing of things. This isn’t at all to say that the images in themselves don’t work – far from it. They’re light-hearted, sweet and amusing – sometimes sexy – and always paying homage to pop culture in a great combination of colour and line. Especially when the topic revolves around religious themes, Macejko creates works that are on-point and satirical. But while they’re a great addition to the text, they don’t seem entirely necessary, in contrast to, say, images in comics and graphic novels. And even when the typography’s merged with the image, it’s hardly a symbiotic reading experience: you either gather the words in the right language(s) or you look at the image. With this uneasy relationship, the question remains who My Parents is really for.

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By appearance alone, it makes the perfect, light-hearted book present for anyone. It’s colourful, relatable, can be flicked through or read bit by bit without losing track of a story. Yet the ‘little myths’ My Parents contains deserve more than superficial glossing-over before being put into a bookshelf. Karafistan’s introductory essay makes that clear. That, in combination with the difficult image-text relationship, leaves us with a picture-book about childhood myths for adults, which can’t neatly be placed into a box. In the end, though, that’s a good thing: it makes My Parents truly unique, which can’t be said of many books today.

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