From the Archives: Fatherland

In every book I write I reach the point where I am so deep in the work that I have to stop writing blog posts and newsletters. I always hope to avoid it. That somehow I’ll be smarter, or faster, or more organized, or just more. This time I’ve managed to avoid hitting the wall for several months by cutting back to one post a month. But the time has come. For the next little while, I’m going to share blog posts from the past. (This one is from 2015.) I hope you enjoy an old favorite, or read a post that you missed when it first came out.

There will be new posts in March no matter what: we celebrate Women’s History Month hard here on the Margins. (I have some fascinating people lined up.)


If you dismiss history told in comic book graphic form* as the non-fiction equivalent of Classic Comics, you’re missing out. At its best, graphic non-fiction uses visual elements to tell stories in new and powerful ways.**

In her graphic memoir, Fatherland: A Family History, Serbian-Canadian artist Nina Bunjevac tells the blood-soaked history of the former state of Yugoslavia through the lens of one family’s story.

Fatherland centers on Bunjevac’s father, whose involvement in a Canadian-based Serbian terrorist organization led her mother to flee with her daughters to Yugoslavia in 1975 and ended with his death in a bomb explosion. Moving back and forth in time and place, from modern Toronto to Yugoslavia during both the Nazi occupation and the Cold War, Bunjevac explores the steps that led to her father’s extreme nationalism and its tragic consequences. Using a combination of strong lines, pointillism and cross-hatching that evokes the feeling of an old newspaper, she tells a story in which there are no heroes and every choice, personal or political, has traumatic consequences. (Bunjevac’s mother is forced to make a classic “Sophie’s choice”: the only way she can take her daughters to Yugoslavia is to leave her son behind.) Both the country and Bunjevac’s family are torn apart by the bitter divisions between Serbs and Croats, partisans and collaborators, royalists and communists.

Bunjevac makes no moral judgments about her family’s choices. Instead she approaches their history from several viewpoints, introducing increasing complexity and moral ambiguity with each new layer. The only thing that is black and white in Fatherland is Bunjevac’s exquisite and often grim illustrations.

*As opposed to what we call “comic book history” here at the Margins–stories that are culturally entrenched and often emotionally satisfying but untrue.

**At its worst, graphic non-fiction is garish and heavy-handed. But if we abandon entire genres of literature based only on the worst examples we’ll have nothing left to read.



  1. Fen on February 10, 2023 at 5:53 pm

    This sounds really interesting — just got a copy from the library.

    • Pamela on February 11, 2023 at 7:06 pm

      Let me know what you think!

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