“Has anyone supposed it lucky to be born? I hasten to inform him it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.”
As with Most Outrageous, it’s not too hard to figure out why I Live Here, actress Mia Kirshner’s anthology of tales concerning with refugees across the globe, didn’t win more acclaim. It’s a hell of a depressing book. It’s a constant, ugly reminder of just how lucky we fat, beknighted North Americans are; how well-off and satisfying our lives are and how we may complain or think we’re suffering, but really, we don’t even have the slightest fucking clue what real suffering is like or what it entails.
So yeah, it’s a major bummer of a book, the kind that might easily cause one to spend the better part of a week in deep depression, wondering just what good any of the altruistic attempts you’ve made up till now, financially or otherwise, have done and how anyone can begin to rectify this mind-boggling amount of gross negligence and inhumanity to a significant degree.
And yet this is an exceedingly artful book, astonishingly well-designed and full of stunning moments. It never once feels ham-fisted, or self-righteous, which, let’s face it is the pitfall we gird our teeth for when encountering a book of this nature.
There are two main draws for this book and their names are Joe Sacco and Phoebe Gloeckner. Both provide stellar work. Sacco’s “Chechen War, Chechen Women” is one of his finest works to date, a unforgettable look at how mothers and wives try to pick up the pieces of their lives when they have nothing to pick up.
Gloeckner’s is even more harrowing (that opening quote is from her). Using PhotoShop, cloth dolls and a series of (what I assume to be) police reports translated into broken, awkward English she chronicles a series of murders, rapes and other crimes that have taken place in the border town of Juarez, Mexico. A friend compared the sequence to “the emotional equivilent of having a cinderblock dropped on your face,” which is about right.
Don’t, however, let the star turns here take away from the other, equally good work contained in these pages. J.B. MacKinnon and Julie Morstad’s Shattorboy, for example, uses the template of an African fable to underscore the AIDS tragedy in Malawi to haunting effect. Kirschner’s journals and writings provide a grounded center that allows us to traverse these difficult tales. Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons’ designs help to constantly drive home the emotional impact of the stories being told.
So yes, I Live Here will bum you out. It’s an almost unbearably sad book. I submit, however, that you will not for an instant regret having read it once you’ve put it down.