As you read Belonging (Scribner, $30), you will consult the endpapers’ bearing the author’s maternal and paternal family trees with more and more trepidation the further Nora Krug digs into that history. Belonging is a spellbinding, visually inventive graphic memoir about one German immigrant’s meticulous investigation of those lives during the Nazi era. Visually, it combines Krug’s handwritten text with her soft pencil and color-wash drawings, family photos, flea-market finds of postcards and WWII collectibles, and bureaucratic forms. A facsimile of her uncle’s essay on “The Jew, A Poisonous Mushroom” (with teacher’s corrections and cartoons) is bone-chilling. Written when he was thirteen, Franz-Karl would be dead five years later, fighting on the Italian front. (Krug’s father, born just after the war, is named Franz-Karl in his honor.) Krug wrestles with family tales and memories, and keeps searching for facts—whether exonerating or damning. The book takes us on an inexorable, powerful journey—one person’s wrestling with Heimat, and what being German means today.
Few can blend words and images into heartfelt storytelling like David Small. In his latest graphic novel, Home After Dark (Liveright, $27.95), readers follow thirteen-year-old Russell Pruitt as he grows up in 1950s America. Abandoned by his mother, Russell is forced to live with his emotionally abusive father. As his circumstances continue to deteriorate, it becomes clear that this isn’t a story of a teenager boldly overcoming life’s obstacles: this is a tale of a boy struggling to tread the murky waters of adolescence. Hope eventually comes in the form of the Mahs, a Chinese couple Russell meets on his journey. Despite facing their own struggles, particularly racist sentiment against them from Russell's friends and neighbors, the Mahs reach across this cultural divide to lend a hand to a person in need. Each page of Small’s artwork is simply mesmerizing. The images are a somber contemplation of hardship that feel as if they’re drawn from memory itself. Beautifully rendered, masterfully told, this is a book you won’t be able to resist reading when you’re home after dark.