cover image Shanghai Dream

Shanghai Dream

Philippe Thirault, trans. from the French by Mark Bence. Humanoids, $17.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-643378-51-0

With equal parts pluck and schmaltz, this graphic novel follows the filmmaking dreams of an enterprising young Jewish couple, Illo and Bernhard. In 1930s Berlin, the encroachment of Nazi thugs—held temporarily at bay by the war hero status of Illo’s aging father—forces the couple to attempt to relocate to a refugee community in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. An opportunity to leave early presents itself, but would require Illo to leave her father behind. Guilt-ridden, Illo disembarks as the ship leaves port, abandoning Bernhard. Thirault’s art echoes the characters’ cinematic aspirations in sumptuous layouts of soaring urban architecture and claustrophobic ghettos. Illo’s melodramatic screenplay-in-progress is cleverly imagined as if a real movie, which shifts with the first draft set in Berlin, then the New York of their imagination, and finally to Shanghai and the Chinese countryside. But the graphic novel suffers from the same syrupy tendencies as the film script, embodied by the cliché of too-good-to-be-true Lin Lin, who cleans Bernhardt’s room and conveniently has connections to the fledgling Shanghai film industry. The writing veers between genres, introducing then hurrying away from more violent scenes, as though to insulate the characters from the full scope of their horror. This curious project brings attention to a lesser-known Jewish refugee community via a tale about art as therapy and homage; though an uneven effort, it’s packed with details for historical fiction buffs. [em](July) [/em]