cover image Five Stalks of Grain

Five Stalks of Grain

Adrian Lysenko and Ivanka Theodosia Galadza. Univ. of Calgary, $24.99 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-77385-375-8

Two siblings scramble to survive during the Stalin-era 1932–1933 Ukrainian famine in this delicately drawn, tightly plotted historical graphic novel. Nadia witnesses Soviet soldiers kill her mother on suspicion of hoarding grain while hiding in a trunk with her younger brother Taras. The starving children wander from home, essentially following crumbs to their doom. They accept an offer of bread from an older man who then attempts to kill them; they flee after Nadia stabs him in the eye. A soldier hands them a tiny portion of bread and urges them to head into town. When a young woman offers them food, Nadia becomes terrified upon discovering the giver is a communist, and in yet another hasty departure, the siblings are separated—seemingly forever. Nadia follows an owl to a cottage belonging to an old woman, who helps Nadia concoct a plan to get to the city and search for her brother. But dangers continue to mount. Dialogue and text are sparse, leaning on the clean, unshaded line drawings, which recall both picture books and early silent European film. Galadza’s idiosyncratic layouts, such as repeated faces in various emotional states, also lend an unfinished, sketchbook feel that matches the account’s emotional intensity and ambiguous ending. Genuine horror and anguish undergird this poignant evocation of atrocity. (Nov.)