Sunday, October 25, 2015

Two Brothers

by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, based on the work of Milton Hatoum

Brazilian cartoonists Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are two of my favourite people working in comics.  Their work with writers like Matt Fraction, Joss Whedon, Gerard Way, and Mike Mignola has always impressed me, and their Daytripper is one of my favourite series of all time.  I was very excited to get my hands on this new graphic novel, Two Brothers, based on a novel by the Brazilian writer Milton Hatoum.

This book tells the story of a Lebanese family that lived in Manaus, Brazil, after the Second World War.  Halim and Zana have three children: their daughter Rânia, and twin sons, Omar and Yakub.  They live with Domingas, an indigenous orphan they took in to work as a servant, and eventually, with her son Nael, who is the narrator of this book.

The two sons started fighting at an early age, and when Yakub made a move on a girl that both boys were interested in, Omar slashed his face, scarring him forever.  After this, Halim contrived to send Yakub to live and attend school in Lebanon.  It was supposed to be both boys who left, but Zana always favoured Omar, and kept him at home.

This made the rifts in the family unbridgeable, and after he returned to Brazil, Yakub stayed distant, and the conflict between the brothers continued to grow.  We follow this family over decades, as everyone except Omar, who remained a perpetual and unrepentant adolescent, grows older and settles into the lives that their choices have afforded them.

Moon and Bá do an amazing job of capturing the drama within this family, as well as the group's shifting fortunes.  We see a grand family decay much as the house around them does, just as the country goes through a series of repressive coups and militaristic crackdowns.  Floating slums are demolished, as are Zana's dreams for her children, especially her beloved caçula (youngest son).

Having not read Hatoum's novel, I have no idea how closely the brothers chose to stick to his plot, or if they restructured the story.  I am, as always, impressed by the way they seamlessly work together to craft a deeply affecting and moving story.

It's hard, when reading this book, to not wonder at the conversations the twin creators must have had, as twin brothers telling a story about twin brothers.  Where Bá and Moon collaborate constantly, Omar and Yakub cannot even be in the same room without resorting to violence, and that makes me wonder how many old arguments were dredged up in the crafting of this book.

I'm tempted to seek out a copy of Hatoum's novel, just to see how much of themselves Bá and Moon put into their adaptation.  It would also give me a good excuse to reread this book, which I'm tempted to do even though I just finished it.

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