cover image The Prisoner and the Writer

The Prisoner and the Writer

Heather Camlot, illus. by Sophie Casson. Groundwood, $14.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-77306-632-5

Short, forceful verses from Camlot (What If Soldiers Fought with Pillows?) pair with textured portraiture and landscapes by Casson (Helen’s Birds)—oil pastel monoprints with soft pastel—to pull readers into this story based on France’s Dreyfus affair. Beginning in 1895, the narrative takes a dual focus. It details the growing belief of Émile Zola (1840–1902) that antisemitism resulted in Alfred Dreyfus (1859–1935), “the only Jewish officer in the French Army high command,” being unjustly sentenced as a traitor, and it conveys Dreyfus’s isolation and despair during his island imprisonment. While the two men never meet, parallel framing in text and image repeatedly unites their experiences and emotions: “At the lowest point of his life, Alfred has nothing left to lose”; “At the height of his career, Émile has everything to lose.” The slim book powerfully depicts the struggles each man faces, and the fervor and division the case created. Lacking, however, are the factual details that led to Zola’s famous open letter, “J’Accuse!” as well as those surrounding his death. An author’s note discusses the repercussions of the Dreyfus affair, tying it to present-day intolerance and journalistic bias, and provides a guide to media literacy. Ages 9–12. (Oct.)