cover image Return to Eden

Return to Eden

Paco Roca, trans. from the Spanish by Andrea Rosenberg. Fantagraphics, $29.99 (176p) ISBN 978-1-68396-931-0

A search for a 75-year-old photograph gives rise to an expansive family portrait in the poignant, sepia-toned latest from Eisner winner Roca (The House). The story zooms out from a snapshot taken during a beachside picnic, cherished for decades by Roca’s mother, Antonía, as a “precious remnant” from her teenage years. In a quest to understand her attachment to the image, Roca gathers stories from his mother’s overcrowded family apartment in Valencia, Spain. Among the ensemble cast are Vicente, the luckless and vicious patriarch; Carmen, Antonía’s mother, a natural storyteller whose faith makes bearable the privation and brutality of her life; and Amparín, one of several siblings, who looks for salvation in the arms of well-situated suitors. As the family tree takes shape, a picture emerges of a Francoist Spain suffocated by poverty, nationalism, and black-market corruption. Through it all, Antonía plucks hope from the Bible’s descriptions of Eden, imperialist propaganda, and fantasies consumed at the local cinema—imagining better times just around the corner even as burdens and misfortune accumulate. The photo, it seems, represented a lost paradise: “Antonía created her own Eden.” Economical, elegant cartoon realism balances the story’s humble tone with a panoramic scope. This unsentimental yet heartfelt family chronicle is another triumph for Roca, sure to win favor with readers of European comics and Elena Ferrante alike. (Feb.)