Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Feels strange that the war is over."
"Yeah. The soldiers must be on their way home by now."
"Mum said they won't be back for a while. They've got to go to Japan first."
"Japan? Yeah. The Japanese are still fighting, aren't they?"
"Do you think that's where our dads are?"
Ralph's dad is actually already on his way back to Blighty after six years at war. Dave's dad... that's a different matter entirely... Here's a dispatch from the publisher to give us our reading orders...
"1945. The war is over. Eleven-year-old Ralph lives with his mother, plays in bombed-out buildings, and dreams of the day his father will come home and tell him all about his heroic battles.
"But when his father actually does return, he's far from what Ralph expected: his father is sullen, withdrawn and refuses to discuss the war at all. As Britain looks to a future fit for heroes, Ralph's father struggles to adjust to civilian life. Susceptible to fits of crying and uncontrollable rages, his behaviour starts to directly impact Ralph and his mother, and the community around them."
Not sensationalist in any way, nor over-sentimental or remotely mawkish, this work deals with the harsh realities faced by a returning soldier attempting to re-assimilate back into his family and everyday working life without first being able to deal with the extreme traumas they experienced during the long conflict. It has the feel of a classic kitchen sink drama in that both Ralph's dad, and then by extension Ralph, are the archetypal angry disillusioned man. For Ralph's dad, it's abundantly clear to our modern minds he's suffering from PTSD, but Ralph simply can't understand why he's taking it out on those closest to him. Violently.
An immensely informative and engrossing drama about the lives of those left behind when their husbands and fathers went off to war for King and country, and the extremely disturbed dynamics many a family must have had to endure, to some degree at least, when, indeed if, their loved ones returned home. It's a painful topic that Jacques Tardi also attempted to process for us with the recent I, RENE TARDI, PRISONER OF WAR IN STALAG IIB concerning his dad's time as a prisoner of war and subsequently trying to come to terms with his incarceration and attempts to reintegrate into society.
Artistically you'll spot strong comparisons to Bryan Talbot in his DOTTER OF HER FATHER'S EYES mode, which isn't too much of a surprise as I believe Bryan has mentored Benjamin in the past. It's a style that works perfectly for this bleak, bombed-out story. A highly recommended addition to the realistic war story canon that's just as dramatic as any bullet-ridden conflict zone yarn.