A Bag of Mar­bles: The Graph­ic Novel

Joseph Jof­fo Kris, adap­ta­tion; Vin­cent Bail­ley, illus.; Edward Gau­vin, trans.
  • Review
By – February 13, 2014

This is a graph­ic nov­el adap­ta­tion of a mem­oir writ­ten by Joseph Jof­fo, a French Jew who describes his wartime expe­ri­ences as a boy dur­ing the Holo­caust. When Joseph’s par­ents sense that it is no longer safe to be in Paris due to the pres­ence of Nazi sol­diers, they give ten-year-old Joseph and his old­er broth­er, Mau­rice, enough mon­ey to leave, and instruct them how to find their broth­ers who have already made it to the Free Zone in France, pri­mar­i­ly Men­ton and Nice. What fol­lows is part adven­ture, part his­to­ry les­son, as the boys and their fam­i­ly find the ways and means to sur­vive the war (all but Joseph’s father who is ulti­mate­ly cap­tured and sent to a con­cen­tra­tion camp). Their pri­ma­ry strat­e­gy is to deny their Jew­ish her­itage. The most com­pelling part of the sto­ry is when Joseph’s father vig­or­ous­ly instructs him to say he is not a Jew, and Joseph responds Papa?…What is a Jew?” This is not a typ­i­cal Holo­caust memoir.

While Joseph does encounter Nazis, faces dan­gers and has his iden­ti­ty ques­tioned on more than one occa­sion, he and his broth­ers appear to be rel­a­tive­ly safe in Vichy France. They even man­age to be enrolled in school and fina­gle deals to get things they want. As the war winds down, there is a rather con­fus- ing shift in the sto­ry when the boys are sent to Aix-Les-Bains and Joseph expe­ri­ences the ten­sion between a fam­i­ly that sup­ports the Vichy gov­ern­ment and mem­bers of the French Resis­tance. While this is a short sec­tion, it requires knowl­edge of the col­lab­o­ra­tion between Vichy France and the Nazis, which is only explained in an end­note. An addi­tion­al short­com­ing of this adap­ta­tion is the fre­quent use of Amer­i­can col­lo­qui­alisms (i.e. Here! 20,000 smack­ers! Go ahead, count!”) which one assumes are used to make the text more appeal­ing to the intend­ed audi­ence, but which don’t ring true in a mem­oir. As a graph­ic nov­el, the art plays a very sig­nif­i­cant role in the tell- ing of this sto­ry, and, for the most part, it does not dis­ap­point. The pan­els are effec­tive­ly done and advance the sto­ry well. The char­ac­ters are var­ied and con­vinc­ing. While not a per­fect ad- apta­tion of Joffo’s mem­oir, this is a book that has the poten­tial to give stu­dents a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent view of what it meant to sur­vive the Holo­caust, as well as what it means to be a Jew. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 – 14.

Teri Mark­son has been a children’s librar­i­an for over 18 years. She is cur­rent­ly the act­ing senior librar­i­an at the Val­ley Plaza Branch Library in North Hol­ly­wood, CA.

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