Page 45 Review by Stephen
"He sharpened his senses, searching for the voice that had forced him to flee."
A boy lies cowering in a dark burrow amongst the roots of the olive grove, one arm on the dusty earth, the other clasped protectively around his own torso. He is as still and as silent as possible; but you can almost feel him shivering in the suffocating heat as he strains to hear the one sound that he so desperately never wants to again.
His eyes are wide, black dots of terror.
And they stay like that for hours, until the sun finally sets.
This is a beautiful book full of soft pinks and bruise-purple shadows upon bright, straw-coloured, grass plains and arid desert. Craggy outcrops appear in the distance. Under the succour of rare, sparsely leafed tree, there are dappled shadows which I doubt could afford much relief from the noon-day heat, but it must be some comfort, some sanctuary.
Where the boy escaped from there was no sanctuary, not even at home. But there were worse things than his father's beatings. There was the sheriff. And what would a sheriff want with a young boy like him?
Yes, it's a beautiful book full of vistas and sunsets, and the surprise of a sunrise when you were convinced you'd never make it... But it is devastating.
The prologue speaks of promise lost.
"There was a time when that plain was a sea of grain. On windy spring days, the wheat undulated just like the surface of the ocean. Green and fragrant waves awaiting the summer sun. The same sun that now baked the clay, pulverising it until it turned into dust."
What was once wholesome and full of potential to sustain and nurture life has now been drained of it by the sun which should also be life-giving but in this instance proved otherwise. In the cameo panel above, what was once a sea of green or golden wheat has now been survived by desiccated, sharp, brown needles.
It's based on a novel of prose from a Spanish writer called Jes?s Carrasco. 'Novel', I'm told, not 'novella', nor three-page short story, but if you did away with all the art and lined up the prose here, then it probably wouldn't fill many more pages than four. So yes: very much "based on", no mere "adaptation".
The images are profoundly communicative, not just of the radiating heat round the small fire of a temporary camp site when the night must be freezing, but of fear and of wariness. The boy's arms are once more clasped protectively, this time round his knees and not just for the cold: the goatherd seems kindly enough, but trust will not come easily to the boy, ever again.
There too the colours do so much of the work: salmon pink for the glow and the warmth of the crackling fire on flesh and clothing, while the night is slate blue.
The solitary, wizened goatherd who has little of his own intuitively understands at least some of the plight of the young boy who initially hovers round the camp site. Even after the kid attempts to steal the old man's satchel, he is invited to share food and the comfort of the fire. But, as I say, trust will never be offered or earned easily again, even through guileless kindness. Ulterior motives have been this boy's experience.
I'm afraid that you're shown those in memories more like dream sequences when a chillingly cold blue drifts in.
When the sheriff first appears he does so as a prancing dandy smoking a cigarette, precise features eroded to a jauntily hat--topped, yellow-eyed, satanic-red grinning skull. He seems perfectly pleased with himself.
In some ways this reminded me of Craig Thompson's HABIBI. Not stylistically in the slightest, but in that it is also a tale of survival, endurance and provision for others in the wake of man's inhumanity to man. Provision for others is so often offered by those who have least. The goatherd offers the boy what little he has in the way of protection and nutrition; but the goats are themselves parched and so produce little milk.
Also: the goatherd may be out of his depth.