Title: London
Author: Dominik Szcześniak
Illustrator: Rafał Trejnis
Publisher: Europe Comics
Genre: Graphic novel
Book format: Digital
Sweet Strawberries: Sweet StrawberrySweet Strawberry

Description: “If you’re looking for words of wisdom, you won’t find them here, ’cause they’re drenched in scotch and beer… But there’s something there underneath it all, some ordinary life.” Economic emigration has never seemed so hopeless, and yet so promising. An engrossing portrayal of a hard-won life led by so many today, from Polish creators Dominik Szcześniak and Rafał Trejnis.

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review:  I’m not sure what to think after reading this book. Mikołaj and his partner have moved to London from Poland in search of a better life. But like many migrants into the country, they face many problems, from difficulty in finding work to troubles with their housing and more. While his partner Gosia works at a bakery, Mikołaj does manual work fixing and decorating houses, but life as an imigrant to London isn’t as easy as many think it is.

With family who are Polish and many of them originally migrants to this country over the decades, I was excited to read this book as I thought I might recognise some of the difficulties that the characters would face as Polish migrants to the country. This graphic novel has some brilliant illustrations although I have to admit to feeling a bit confused when I first began reading it. The story seems a simple one but without much of a plot really. Although there are anecdotes of what it is like to be a Polish migrant to London, this feels more like a series of short anecdotes rather than a solid story with a solid plot or beginning, middle and end.

The story is set in 2006 with a flashback to 2005 in the middle. It begins with a page of text which sums up, although a little cryptically, the general way of life for Polish migrant Mikołaj. The story then takes on a comic/graphic novel style where we get to see some of Mikołaj’s, or Mickey to his Engligh friends, life. The things that happen aren’t very remarkable, Mikołaj plastering a wall and having a strange conversation with a certain character, then walking home and meeting a friend, having dinner with his partner then dinner with friends, etc. But while the things that happen seem unremarkable there are some good moments that show some of what migrant life really is like for some in London.

Some parts of the story I really enjoyed, like the references to the ‘wailing wall’ which is really a shop window with job adverts in the window. I remember seeing this ‘wailing wall’ in Hammersmith which really is frequented by many Poles looking for work. I also liked parts which showed Mikołaj and Gosia’s troubles in getting work when they first arrived to London, being far overqualified (as many Poles are) and the funny exchange in their new house in the dark. Even the part about food waste was good to see and I like how this was shown as it’s a real issue in our country today and I like how Gosia and Mikołaj deal with this ‘waste’. But although there are some good moments like these, this book has some real drawbacks.

Although the story is simple it isn’t very interesting, the anecdotes often didn’t even make sense to me. Although the flashback to 2005 felt like a better story contained within the 2006 tale, the things that were happening in the book felt separated and often made little sense following on from each other. I also didn’t like the stereotyping of other characters. I have no issues with the stereotyping of Poles as this is a book about a Polish couple moving to London, written by a Polish author, and I feel that it’s okay to laugh at your own culture. But the story also contained others like a Syrian migrant with a tragic story that felt a little over the top and references to Arabs and others which when describing their behaviour or attitudes, could be considered offensive.

The book contains copious amounts of swearing the f word as well use of the n word when refering to black people. Although this particular scene gave the positive message that not all Polish people are racist (as some might believe) at the same time there are statements made by others which felt forced and it just came across as a vulgar and unnecessary exchange and did nothing for the overall story.

I really cannot fault the artwork, although it’s not my favourite style I do like the way all the characters look and the overall feel of the pictures. Each of the ilustrations are in black, white and grey and look similar to the illustration on the front cover but all have a comic book style feel and are really good. I like the expressions on the characters faces, and the different angles that the story was shown at, sometimes from the outside of a building and I love that chat which took place in the dark which was just a bunch of black boxes with speech bubbles. I really do like the illustrations which is why I find it frustrating that the story just wasn’t that great for me.

I’m not sure what to think of the ending of this story. It seems to end in a bit of an abrupt way, the rest of the tale told through a letter that Mikołaj has written to a friend which actually involves three whole pages of typed text to read. This felt jarring and I would have preferred to see more of what was said in comic form rather than this written letter. It’s a real shame because I felt that this book had such a potential to show the real funny side and pitfals that happen to Polish migrants who come to London. I can think of plenty of funny things that can and do happen and how the life of migrant Poles can be depicted. But while there was potential and the artwork is really good, I just feel disappointed with what I have read. The book’s story often didn’t make sense (possibly as it was first published in Poland?) and felt more stereotyping and crude than it had to be. Rather than this book making you see Polish people and migrants from anywhere in the world in a better light than you may have thought of them before, after reading this, it feels like this book just reinforces everything that people hate about them. And after finishing this I just cannot personally recommend this book.

What do you think of this graphic comic book?  Do you like stories about migrant life?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂