The Listener

By David Lester

Place: Publisher & Year: Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2011

Genres: General fiction, historical fiction

Format: Graphic novel

ISBN: 9781894037488

Audience: Adults

Number of pages: 312

Settings: Vancouver, BC, Canada, Lippe, Germany & other locations in Europe

Time periods: Contemporary and 1928-1933

Plot summary: Hitler’s rise to power is described to the main character – a sculptor named Louise – by an elderly German couple she meets while touring Europe.  Louise is travelling in Europe as a means of dealing with the guilt that she feels after a protester fell to his death outside her apartment. The German couple’s story focuses upon the spin doctoring which Hitler performed in the early 1930’s on his way to becoming Germany’s chancellor.  As Louise travels, her background and thoughts about art and politics are described. The two stories are interwoven throughout the book to reveal how Louise is able to work through both her feelings, as well as the history she learned from the couple, to complete her next sculpture. This book has as much to say about the role of art for both individuals and for society as a whole, as it does about the historical past.

Illustrations: The story is presented in black and white drawings which vary in style.  Some panels are page length, while others are much smaller.  Some reveal watercolor-like, dreamy pictures with soft edges, while others show a much sharper focus.  A few panels include sparse line drawings which portray motion in some cases, or a character’s thoughts in another.  There is a much wider range of techniques  used for these illustrations, than in other graphic novels which I’ve read.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: Steady and energetic.

Characterization: Most of the story is told through Louise’s perspective, however, the historical part of the story is shown through both Rudolph and Marie’s eyes, as well as in third person omniscient .  This is done by mixing panels of news headlines, old political cartoons, and even scenes depicting Hitler on the toilet with scenes from the couple’s perspective.

Frame: Art, whether an expression of protest or power, provides the frame.

Story line: A beautifully and powerfully presented story which reveals how each moment in time can have a huge impact upon the future .

Subject headings:

From Pima County Public Library:

Germany — History — 1933-1945 — Comic books, strips, etc.

Other graphic novels related to WWII:

Parade (with Fireworks) by Mike Cavallaro

War Stories, Vol. 1 & 2 by Garth Ennis

We Are on Our Own by Miriam Katin

Berlin trilogy by Jason Lutes

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman

Personal notes:

I loved the ending of this story!  I also loved the ambiguities which the story holds.  Who is The Listener?  Is it Rudolph,  Louise, the reader, or sculpture audience? I don’t fully understand the symbolism of the hammer, but I love it nonetheless.  I think this book would make a great discussion book, because it does contain so many ambiguities.  I appreciated having the chronology, appendix, and author’s notes to refer to at the end of the book.

Other: Diversity – female sculptor, Cambodian doctor/protestor, elderly German couple

Website for the book

How Art and Music Can Change the World

The Black Dot Museum  includes paintings by David Lester

One thought on “The Listener

  1. jeansmith says:

    Here’s an interview with David Lester on UMFM, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, June 2011.

    “A dense and fiercely intelligent work that asks important questions about art, history, and the responsibility of the individual, all in a lyrical and stirring tone.” — Publishers Weekly (New York)

    Available through AK Press

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