Talk to My Back

Drawn & Quarterly. Jul. 2022. 368p. tr. from Japanese by Ryan Holmberg. ISBN 9781770465633. pap. $29.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
A middle-class Japanese housewife in the early 1980s contemplates her identity and place in society in this masterwork from one of alternative manga’s most important and influential figures. Chiharu Yamakawa’s life is so thoroughly dominated by caring for her husband and daughters that when she finally has an opportunity to leave the house alone, she’s haunted by a sense of having forgotten something important and is uncomfortable moving through the world unaccompanied. At home, she wrestles with seeing her children as distinct beings instead of extensions of herself. She resents their neediness but delights in watching them explore the world. Her husband is less of a partner than another dependent; she wonders how it’s possible that she knows everything about him while he doesn’t know her at all, and whether the bond between them can still be called love. Translator and comics historian Holmberg supplies a long essay explaining the impact that this work had when it was first published in the early 1980s as a serial in the influential magazine Garo.
VERDICT In this seminal feminist alt-manga, Yamada (who passed away in 2009) revealed her protagonist’s complex inner life through poetic prose and fluid, expressive linework reminiscent of fashion illustration but keyed to depict complex emotion. A brilliantly realized, keenly insightful, resonant character study.
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