Blood of the Virgin

  • Review
By – May 1, 2023

Set in the world of Los Angeles’s 1970s film indus­try, Sam­my Harkham’s graph­ic nov­el Blood of the Vir­gin offers a nuanced and com­pli­cat­ed view of many inter­twined ele­ments, includ­ing the immi­grant expe­ri­ence and the dis­il­lu­sion­ment that comes from encoun­ter­ing the real­i­ty of one’s dream. The book is expan­sive, often depict­ing char­ac­ters that are unlik­able but still sym­pa­thet­ic — and it is inside this ten­sion that Blood of the Vir­gin tru­ly shines. Rather than set­tling for straight­for­ward sit­u­a­tions, rela­tion­ships, or expe­ri­ences, Harkham rev­els in the messi­ness of being human. 

The graph­ic novel’s pro­tag­o­nist, Sey­mour, an Iraqi Jew­ish immi­grant from Aus­tralia, and his wife Ida, an Ashken­zai Jew­ish immi­grant from New Zealand, clash through­out the sto­ry. Despite both being Jew­ish, Sey­mour and Ida come from notably dif­fer­ent back­grounds. Blood of the Vir­gin thus dis­tin­guish­es between Sephardic and Ashke­nazi expe­ri­ences and rais­es ques­tions about what a Jew­ish” expe­ri­ence even means. On their way to a par­ty, Sey­mour and Ida get into an argument:

Ida: These are your peo­ple. Most of them assume I’m not Jewish.”

Sey­mour: Oh come now, they just don’t know any Ashkenazis.”

Ida: They do. They just don’t con­sid­er them Jews. Your uncle said that.”

Sey­mour: Well, tra­di­tion­al­ly, Jews come from Baby­lon, not Poland.”

Harkham’s char­ac­ters nev­er rec­on­cile this argu­ment. Their refusal to do so is one of the graph­ic novel’s strengths: it resists the allure of con­crete def­i­n­i­tions. It instead leans into the fact that these def­i­n­i­tions aren’t as strict as we’d like them to be, and that Jew­ish­ness is a capa­cious category. 

Harkham nev­er depicts Sey­mour or Ida as reli­gious­ly Jew­ish. In fact, Sey­mour most­ly devotes him­self to the altar of his career as a film­mak­er. It’s cru­cial to note that Sey­mour feels most con­nect­ed to and inspired by the hor­ror genre, a genre gen­er­al­ly con­cerned with the Oth­er” and larg­er soci­etal fears. How­ev­er, Harkham com­pli­cates how we read hor­ror — espe­cial­ly in a Jew­ish con­text — when the nar­ra­tive flash­es back to Budapest in 1942. In a series of qui­et frames, Harkham shows the rise of the Nazis in Budapest, which ensnares a Jew­ish moth­er and her daugh­ter. He reveals that this char­ac­ter is Ida’s moth­er, and that the daugh­ter from the flash­back does not sur­vive the Holo­caust. In pan­els that read like a silent film, Harkham implies that the real hor­ror of Blood of the Vir­gin is not Seymour’s movie mon­sters, but the his­to­ry and real­i­ty of antisemitism. 

Seymour’s and Ida’s fam­i­lies rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent con­nec­tions to Judaism, yet they are all con­nect­ed by a shared sense of per­se­cu­tion as Oth­ers.” Harkham con­cludes the nar­ra­tive with a telling para­ble: A cat inside a house ter­ror­izes the mice liv­ing there. The mice won­der, Why hath God smote us so?” Final­ly, one mouse has the idea to tie a bell around the cat’s neck so they can lis­ten for its approach. But which of us will tie the bell around the cat’s neck?” 

Despite their dif­fer­ences, Sey­mour and Ida recon­nect — two mice pro­tect­ing each oth­er from the cat(s) lurk­ing about. 

Dr. Megan Reynolds is the Devel­op­ment Man­ag­er for the Nation­al Book Foun­da­tion. Before join­ing the Nation­al Book Foun­da­tion, Megan Reynolds served as the Devel­op­ment Coor­di­na­tor at Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. Megan holds a Ph.D. in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon and BA in Eng­lish with minors in Cre­ative Writ­ing and Span­ish from Trin­i­ty Uni­ver­si­ty. She is orig­i­nal­ly from New Mex­i­co and now lives in New York City.

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