Michigan: On the Trail of a War Bride
Michigan: On the Trail of a War Bride has one of the more interesting premises I’ve seen in an European graphic novel.
Written by Julien Frey and illustrated by Lucas Varela, it’s the story of Julien, a Frenchman, meeting his wife’s American cousins for the first time. Maud’s grandfather had a sister named Odette, who came to Michigan with an American soldier after World War II.
I loved the historical part best since it evoked how much everyone’s life was affected by the Second Great War. Odette worked in a cafe, where the GI wooed her with chocolate bars and dates at boxing matches. They had to decide whether they were committed to each other and where to live after only six months together, but in a time and place where life could be short, they got married and moved to the US. First, though, Odette is sent to classes, to learn how to be a proper American wife.
We jump back and forth between those days and Julien’s culture clash visit. The Americans have a giant dog, various wheeled vehicles, and a bunch of deer skulls from hunting. The men all have beards and wear trucker caps, and Maud’s cousin Christine sells sex toys. This is set almost a decade ago, where the economy was failing and families were trying to get by however they could.
Odette’s life wasn’t necessarily any easier. The way she’s portrayed, I’m not sure she was happy, although she raised four kids. She doesn’t get back to France to visit her brother and his family until after she’s a widow, and there, she’s now considered an American, no longer belonging to either land. Other women she met on the boat coming over — there were 800, part of 200,000 European war brides all told — had it worse. Their husbands beat them or they got divorced or they were hated by their husband’s families who wanted American daughters-in-law.
There’s a lot unspoken, drawing the reader to empathize with the characters, wondering what it would feel like in their positions. Everyone can relate to feeling out of place in a new location, not understanding the details of life there. The color palette is slate blue, warm grey, and orange-red, making everything seem emotionally charged, even a walk downtown to get a picture of what the brasserie looks like now. (I was provided a digital review copy.)