Sunday, June 20, 2010

Luna Park

Written by Kevin Baker
Art by Danijel Zezelj

I was really impressed by this graphic novel.  I have no idea who Kevin Baker is (apparently his novel Dreamland has some similarities to this work) , but I have been a Danijel Zezelj fan for at least ten years, and knew that I would like this book for the art regardless of how the story turned out.

Luna Park is a really interesting story.  It took me a little while to get in to it; the beginning seems to breeze through the opening pages, but as the book progressed, I got wrapped up in its depth and layered use of story telling.

At the surface, Alik is a Russian immigrant scratching out an existence in Brooklyn by working for a minor Russian mobster.  Alik is still nursing emotional wounds he got in Chechnya, where he was a soldier ten years before.  He'd tried to help a woman he was in love with, and it ended badly for them all.

Alik today is in love with a woman with a similar name, who works for Alik's boss's rival, another Russian mobster who is buying up most of Coney Island, including Luna Park.  Alik is a heroin user, and is plagued by dreams of his time in Chechnya, although often the dreams seem to be taking place in the First World War, or during the Russian Revolution instead.

The story quickly becomes more of a historical novel than the crime story that I expected it to be when I started reading, as Baker explores the connection between these dreams and Alik's present, in a manner that totally surprised and pleased me.

Baker's writing, mixed with Zezelj's incredibly moody and evocative artwork, capture a sense of 'Russian-ness' I've only encountered in actual Russian novels before.  They make strong connections between the shabbiness of Coney Island and the desolation of the trenches of WWI France.  Everything is seen through a window of unfulfilled promise, which is very much how Alik has led his life.  Recommended.

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