Alte Zachen

by | Oct 13, 2023 | Book Review, Graphic novel

Alte Zachen (cover)

Book Details

Alte Zachen
Ziggy Hanaor, illus. Benjamin Phillips. London: Cicada, hb, 978-1-80066-022-9, 2022, £16.99, 72pp.
Graphic novel, 9-12 years

Set in modern New York City, Alte Zachen is a graphic novel that follows 11-year-old Benji and his grandma, Bubbe Rosa, as they gather the ingredients for the traditional Friday night dinner.

Born in Berlin, Bubbe escaped the Nazis and ended up living in Brooklyn, surrounded by the Jewish culture. But with many people and shops gone, the city is no longer recognisable to Bubbe. Frustrated, she takes her anger out on her grandson, young people on the streets and a grocery shop clerk. Despite the embarrassment, Benji is very patient in explaining the new ways of life to his grandma. As they walk through the city, we learn more about Bubbe’s traumatic past and emotional scars that robbed her of tolerance and humour. This brings us back to the book’s epigraph: ‘A person’s heart is like a sausage, no one knows exactly what’s inside.’

The slow-paced story is perfectly complemented by Benjamin Phillips’ sketch-like illustrations with hand-drawn dialogue bubbles. The present-day scenes are depicted in gloomy shades of blue and grey watercolour, while Bubbe’s memories are drawn in a softer and warmer palette.

Going far beyond the familiar topics of religious and cultural traditions, this moving book promotes discussions on intergenerational relationships, identity, tolerance, empathy, and acceptance.

*The book includes a glossary of Yiddish words used in the story.


Review by Ekaterina Shatalova