"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." --Lao-tsu
The graphic novel, Forget Sorrow, by Belle Yang masterfully depicts the story of her father's family in China. After preliminary scenes, ZuWu, Yang's father who's called "Baba," begins this ancestral tale in earnest. ZuWu's journey literally begins with a single step which leads for miles and miles on foot on route to America. Without this journey, we may be reading this tale but perhaps not seeing Yang's skill as a graphic artist.
Yang has written six other books but this is her first graphic novel. A series of events lead Yang to tell her tale in this format. Having first escaped to her parents' home from an abusive boyfriend called "Rotten Egg," she then moves to China. She remains there for three years fearful for her life. The history of her family may not have changed but the story-teller and artist may have written a different kind of work.
In China, Yang learns classic Chinese painting techniques and gets to know some of her paternal relatives. Her single step to China culminates 14 years later in this ancestral tale that critics and friends are calling "wonderfully dreamy -- and often nightmarish" (SF Chronicle), a "breakthrough" (Monterey County Weekly),"intricately brushed panels" (Wall Street Journal), "echoes both with the tragic darkness of King Lear and the clean austerity of classical Chinese poetry" (Kirkus) and "nearly mythic" (Amy Tan).
Yang has referred to Forget Sorrow as "ours," since it is her father who witnesses the personal and historical drama which she tells and draws. When Manchuria is bombed in 1943, the patriarch, ZuWu's grandfather, brings his four sons under his roof. There are heartbreaking and subtle scenes of intrigue and betrayal that many families will be able to relate to. There seems to always be a favorite son or daughter who, in the end, betrays their father. This story is no different. But the heartbreak is not only personal. The devastating impact of communism is felt. Land is confiscated and familial assets depleted. This starts ZuWu on his single step that leads to America and Yang on her very own journey, the telling of this tale.
Forget Sorrow is a wonderful, beautifully drawn story that shows the pain, joy, and terror of an ancestral tale.