It is my sincerest hope that someday soon the people of Africa’s war-torn nations look back at these troubled times as a bleak speck in the past–a horror that shapes a future that is brighter and fuller each and every day. Books like Sharon MacKay‘s War Brothers are the artistic tools that the world can use to make that a reality.
Based on the 2008 book of the same name, War Brothers is the story of a Ugandan boy named Jacob as he tries to survive his forced recruitment into the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army. Based on actual interviews taken by MacKay, War Brothers is a story that absolutely must be told, whatever the medium may be. It is unflinching in its portrayal of the brutalities of modern warfare, and the lengths of zealotry and violence. MacKay has crafted an insightful and heart wrenching story, one that is only further accentuated by the illustrations of Daniel Lafrance.
A story like this is powerful enough as it is. Though I have not read the book that preceded it, I can’t help but believe that the graphic novel adaptation of War Brothers must be even more moving than the original. Lafrance’s illustrations have everything to do with that. The artwork is round and colorful, almost like a children’s book. This serves to deeply disturb the audience as the story progresses and we are thrust face first into the deep end of infanticide and African bloodshed. The warmth of his style feels completely wrong for many scenes in War Brothers which in turn makes it feel completely right. It catches one off guard, and makes you rethink what you just saw. After all, when the devil reaches the playground, no one expects to see him wearing Keds.
The emotional gamut is run in War Brothers. The setting feels lawless and dog-eat-dog. No one feels safe–not even those who would torment Jacob and his friends. In the end everyone is a victim to this nightmare wave of savagery. There is something of a traditional happy ending here, but that is hardly the lesson that MacKay and her interviewees are trying to teach. The lesson is that this lawless asylum being described is not an otherworldly one–that these horrors exist in our own back yard. And that sometimes even those who are supposed to protect us hurt us in the end.
That is reason enough to read War Brothers.