Threads is the firsthand report of Kate Evans, a cartoonist who volunteered in 2015 and 2016 in “The Jungle” of Callais– a refugee community that the author describes as the “Disunited Nations” because it houses refugees fleeing conflicts in Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch out For & Fun Home) describes the form of Evans’ book as “comics journalism at its finest.” While most of the frames follow Evans’ as she meets people in the camp, other pages and chapters offer creative zoom-outs or zoom-ins on different aspects of crises hitting refugees hardest. She writes:
“To protect some of the people described in this book[,] their identities have been altered and some characters have been conflated. But everything you are about to read really happened.”
The effect of this formal choice is to create a multi-voiced and multi-perspective work that shows the humanity existing in the maddeningly destitute camps situated amidst one of the richest areas of the world. This in turn helps show how different “threads” of the refugee crisis make gordian knots or rapidly unravel (it’s a bit of a mixed metaphor) in ways that further oppress and traumatize people fleeing horrible violence. I especially appreciated the amount of this work that focuses on what people would see on the screen of a smart phone. Phones are interspersed across the pages showing twitter feeds of callous, cowardly internet trolls in the UK and across the world who are afraid of young orphans and those most traumatized by the 21st century’s worst conflicts, and whose fear is expressed through sickening rage (the conflicts, Evans reminds her readers, have been either instigated or exacerbated by American, British, and European colonialism, militarism, and economic woes. She notes that while we seem to have unending money to fuel the crisis, we can’t find any will to spend money to allay it).
Reading this beautiful book impacted me viscerally– at times it feels like you’re being gut punched by the stories and images– and other times furious at the cowardly tweets, the needlessly violent riot police, or the opportunistic politicians damaging the less fortunate to further their careers. Evans is hardly a neutral bystander. She screams at border police officers pinning a small child to the ground who tried to get to the UK: “You have an obligation to do your job in the most humane way possible!” Yet my fear in writing this review is that I’m making Evans’ book seem a mawkish, simplistic morality play where refugees=good and xenophobic Europeans and Americans=bad. It’s not that at all, though that’s not all that far off how this book ultimately made me feel. For one, it doesn’t portray the European volunteers as saints– they are at times incompetent and are uncomfortable walking the line between volunteering and embarking on “misery tourism.” The refugees themselves are not saints either, though Evans fiercely defends the refugees from all the racist, xenophobic slurs and logics that are so common in today’s political discourse.
Everyone should read this book.
Review Submitted by: Shane D. Hall
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Book from a small press published in 2017