Welcome To The New World by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan

Welcome to the New World by Jake Halpern

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thoughtful and eloquent “graphic novel and true story” Welcome To The New World is the story of an arrival. The Aldabaan family, originally from Syria, have arrived in America at the same time that Donald Trump has arrived in the White House. It is against this turbulent backdrop that they must find their feet – jobs must be found, English must be learnt, and schools must be attended. The family is supported by a number of characters and organisations but all along a clock ticks: a handful of months and they must be independent. The alternative is too much to think of.

Originally told as a serialised strip in the New York Times, this novel splits itself into five chapters. There’s a detailed note on methodology – perfect for any students of reporting or non-fiction illustration – and another that provides an epilogue. Methodologically speaking, I found this a deeply ethical project which respected not only the family at the heart of this story – a real world family – but also those people around them.

Let’s dwell on that for a moment. This is a story about people and the goodness that they can do for each other. I fell rather in love with one of the characters who appears in the later chapter who simply asks “If I help you, then you have to agree to help others. That work for you?” It’s also a story about the horrific things that people can inflict upon each other. There’s a dark, grey-tinged flashback to Syria which elaborates upon why the family left and what happened to them. It is told starkly and simply and very powerful because of that.

I only picked this up by accident, but I’m pleased that I did. It’s thoughtful and restrained and quiet and yet kind of immensely impactful all at once. Read it alongside Guy Delisle and books like Alpha. Abidjan-Gare du Nord: Abidjan-Gare du Nord and you’ve got some world-changing literature, right there.

(A quick note of recognition for the artwork of Adeebah Aldabaan as well. She has several pieces in the final pages of the book and they are some of the most eye-catching and stunning pages in the entire thing. One piece, the last in the book, left me breathless).

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