Algeria is Beautiful Like America
Written by Olivia Burton
Art by Mahi Grand
Translation by Edward Gauvin
Published by Lion Forge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Algeria is Beautiful Like America chronicles the journey of a young woman to her family’s homeland of Algeria. As Olivia Burton’s narration captures her family in its beauty and its private cruelty, her narrative doesn’t shy away from the insensitive comments the family made towards Arabs, helping to build the verisimilitude of the graphic novel.
Mahi Grand’s artwork is fantastic. Algeria is Beautiful Like America is done almost entirely in black, white, and gray, giving the book a lived-in feel. Several of Grand’s illustrations are based on or inspired by actual photographs, capturing the family at various times. The gray washes that Grand uses in their art is utilized to great effect, with washes sometimes growing deeper and darker as the page progresses, hinting at the shift in tone to the story.
The narrative of Algeria is Beautiful Like America builds and crescendos in surprising ways. At one point, Olivia recounts the journey of her mother and her mother’s friend across the Mediterranean from Algeria to France. She brings up numerous details of that journey, and then undercuts it by saying that her mother had clarified that she had taken a plane. It’s these slice-of-life moments that really make the graphic novel such an immersive read. As it builds, Olivia struggles with the history of her family. She is a 'Black Foot,' a term that had a confused origin, but all the strains led to the fact: her family was a part of France’s colonial history in Algeria. In many ways, Olivia’s return to Algeria is also about her confronting that challenging history.
Color is used sparingly by Mahi Grand; the first instance of color appears nearly 50 pages into the graphic novel. Grand only uses color for panels depicting photographs that Olivia took of Algiers, giving the country an added vitality.
Olivia’s journey introduces her to some colorful characters while also offering a number of surprises as her family stories don’t always match up to reality. Burton brilliantly captures her own reactions to the dead ends and seemingly endless changes, giving the reader an idea the sense of adventure into the unknown that she must have felt. Credit must also go to translator Edward Gauvin and editor Mike Kennedy for keeping the story moving, and it’s easy to forget that the English edition is not the book’s original language.
Algeria is Beautiful Like America is a nice break from the superheroics, fantasy, and horror that dominate today’s current comics market. This is a real-world adventure, but one that is internal as it is external. Writer Olivia Burton lets readers in on a very personal journey, and that makes all the twists and turns to the story fascinating to see unfold. Mahi Grand’s artwork makes even the internalized portions of Olivia’s journey come to life for the reader, making Algeria is Beautiful Like America an emotional read.