Please welcome today’s guest writer, Jacqueline Ristola. Jacqueline (’13) is a masters student in cinema and media studies at York University in Toronto, Canada. She is a co-editor of Animation Studies 2.0, the blog for the Society for Animation Studies. You can read her work in Animation Studies and Bright Wall/Dark Room. Twitter: twitter.com/JCRRistola
Themes of identity across generations of Russian-Jewish women are wonderfully woven together in Julia Alekseyeva’s brilliant debut graphic memoir, Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution (January 2017, Microcosm Press). The book explores the life of Lola, Julia’s great-grandmother, her experiences throughout the history of the Soviet Union and its collapse, and her influence as a figure of political importance in Julia’s life.
Born in 1910, Lola lived a fascinating life, one full of strength and survival. While Lola escaped the perils of history such as the civil war and the Stalinist purges, she also lost many of her family members as well, from her parents to the Chechen massacre of the Jews in 1942 to her husband serving in World War II. But while Lola often struggled to survive, her life is also marked by incredible resilience. Lola’s determination, from taking care of her family at the age of ten, to cultural organizing with trade workers, to volunteering at a hospital during World War II, illustrates a deep commitment to the communities around her and serves as a vital fount of inspiration for those seeking to build a better world.
Lola’s story not only serves as a thrilling historical tale, filled with details to teach anyone about the history and culture of the USSR, but also envisions how we can serve the communities around us, and that we learn this through the practice and experience of others. Soviet Daughter provides a powerful parable, illustrating Lola’s inner strength, commitment, and kindness, and how such values influences and shaped Julia’s own political experience. Through ink brushstrokes that convey both vitality and sorrow, Alekseyeva provides a wonderful glimpse into the life of a woman who influences the lives of others tremendously, including Julia’s own personal connection to her great-grandmother.
Interwoven with Lola’s tale, we see Julia’s own story, and her own coming of age amidst complicated histories of identity and politics. Fleeing the cloud of Chernobyl in Kiev in 1986, Alekseyeva and her family relocated to the United States in 1992. From there Alekseyeva weaves an intimate theme of identity between Lola’s and her own. As we learn of the anti-Semitism Lola faced in the USSR, so too we see the tale of the anti-Semitism Julia faced growing up in America. While the memoir explores Jewish identity, so too does it examine what it means to be Russian, and its political lineage. As an immigrant, as a Jew, and as a Russian, Julia navigates her life in America, often only finding solace and comfort with her great-grandmother. From recreating family photos and to envisioning the past, Alekseyeva demonstrates range as an artist through creative panel placement such as incorporating maps into montages that both orient the reader into the historical space while also illustrating the passage of time. Drawing from an inherited legacy of both trauma and wisdom, Julia’s tale examines her own political awakening, and how the past shapes this important process. It serves as an important connection, illustrating how Lola lives on through her legacy, and by extension, Julia herself.
In Soviet Daughter, Alekseyeva traces a revolution, a political legacy passed from Lola to herself. Her artwork draws you in with a beautiful and compelling cover, both inside and out. While a few pages are a bit unfocused, this only slightly affects the typography, as Alekseyeva’s style is impressionistic with graceful brush stokes and deep pools of ink. It’s an excellent read well worth a place on your bookshelf.