by Nikolai Maslov
Soft Skull Press, $19.95
Like I suspect most Americans who grew up and the end of the cold war, I really only knew two things about Siberia: 1) It was cold; and 2) it's where the Soviets sent their dissidents to live out their lives in misery. In the back of my mind I must have assumed that there were 'regualr folks' who lived in Siberia, but up front was the idea that everything there was like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
Siberia is a graphical memoir by Nikolai Maslov, one of the 'regular folks' from a small farming village in Siberia. An aspiring artist and Francophile, Nikolai has dreams that, due to the circumstances of his life, may never be realized. He grows up; gets drafted and serves in Mongola; and returns to Siberia, where life revolves around labor during the day and swimming in vodka in the evening. Nikolai seems destined to live a life a quiet desperation, until a fortuitous trip to the big city leads him to art school, a wife, and eventually to Moscow. But Nikolai's dreams are halted as his prefered western art style does not agree with the Party's idea of what Soviet art should be.
As a story, Maslov's memoir is alas somewhat lacking in a narrative drive. It mostly seems to be a series of events in a life (which, let's face it, most of our lives would seem like if put to paper!) Where Siberia succeeds quite admirably is in painting a picture of that life. Done entirely in soft pencil, both the desperations and the small pleasures come through. Over the course of nearly 100 pages, Maslov's art pulls you into his world.
In the afterword, Emmanuel Carrère, the original French publisher of Siberia, tells the story of how he visited Russia and came upon Maslov and his memoir. It is quite remarkable to learn that, outside of a few Corto Maltese volumes, Maslov had little exposure to western comics. It is also said that Maslov has no future plans to do any more comics; which I think would be a shame.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5).
(a review copy of Siberia was provided by the publisher)