Francesca Sanna, The Journey, Flying Eye Books/Walker Books Australia, 1 July 2016, 48pp., $27.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9781909263994
All of life is a journey – a series of departures and arrivals, comings and goings, hellos and goodbyes – but some journeys are desperate life-changing events that alter the traveller forever after. This is the story of one such journey undertaken by a family, a mother and her two children.
We meet the family in peacetime when they are four, enjoying an idyllic day at the beach, blissfully unaware of what is about to unfold. When war breaks out everything changes, their father is taken and they no longer feel safe. The mother decides to take the children to another country far away. She shows the children pictures of strange cities and strange animals and sighs: ‘We will go there and not be frightened anymore.’ That one word ‘sighs’ tells us everything about the situation: her knowledge of what they have lost, her doubts about what they can salvage, her uncertainty about the future. They travel a long time always leaving more and more behind. They encounter angry guards, are lost in a forest, board an overcrowded ferry, travel many miles by train crossing numerous borders. The book ends with the wish that like the migratory birds that travel with them they will also find a safe new home.
This simple account is very powerfully presented in understated prose counterbalanced by the expressive highly emotional illustrations. All the sadness, the worry, the terror, the hope the suspense is conveyed through the remarkable artwork. Sanna is very effective in using abstract black shapes to convey menace –the black ocean waves encroaching on the family’s idyllic day at the beach, huge black claws threatening the family during the war, and sinuous black shapes surrounding the family in the forest. Other colours such as rich reds, vibrant greens and warm yellows provide a counterpoint to the black that always threatens but never quite engulfs the family. The book is printed on matt paper giving it a retro appearance which, combined with the modern artwork creates a timeless quality to the whole.
Sanna states that the book is a collage of all the personal stories of the refugees and immigrants she met. She tells a terrible story but has also created a beautiful moving work of art accessible to all. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Mia Macrossan