I’ve found the Magical History Tour series to be incredibly intelligent and moving to date, but I did not expect to cry quite as much as I did while reading this seventh installment, and particularly over the life and times of a figure who’s become so familiar, I almost take for granted that I already know everything I need to about him.
Clearly I did not, as Fabrice Erre and Sylvain Savoia bring to life the kid-friendly biography of one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. It’s no mean feat to distil the Indian subcontinent’s complicated tangle of social and political systems into one fifty-page illustrated volume but the authors do so with aplomb through the lens of Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi’s life, covering his birth, upbringing, education and political awakening on his way to leading political movements both in South Africa and India, before his death at the hands of extremists. While Mssr Erre’s gentle narrative voice (in the form of calm, wise Annie advising her more excitable little brother Nico on how to deal with a school bully using Gandhi’s teachings) presents events as neutrally as possible, Mssr Savoia’s illustrations infuse the words with all the emotion necessary. Just seeing a round-faced Gandhi as a child grow up into a straight-backed young man in European dress before becoming the ascetic figure most recognizable to people round the globe felt like a sucker punch to this middle-aged mom, who thinks of mortality and the innocence of childhood far more often than I used to. Children reading this graphic novel probably won’t see the pathos, and that’s okay. Books (and media) that can be appreciated on many levels by readers of all and different ages are a good and precious thing.
To be perfectly honest, the parts that felt most wild and wonderful to me were the parts describing the actions Gandhi took to rebel against unjust rule. In a sense, his historical struggle against colonialism was easier because it had an easy enemy to define: the exploitative British government that refused local self-determination was fairly simple to identify and reject. It’s harder for modern movements that cannot rely on obvious identity signifiers to see who genuinely cares about democracy vs a creeping authoritarianism that adopts the language of unity when all it really seeks is dominion.