In a particular jarring sequence of events found in Dan Goldman and George Schall’s graphic novel, Chasing Echoes, the Bloom family attends an Elton John concert. The rain is pouring down like Noah’s Ark redux. The Blooms are exhausted, both physically and emotionally. They are in Poland, rediscovering their shared family history that was nearly destroyed by the Holocaust. Elton sings one of his signature tunes, while the family lets out a cathartic yelp of joy. They had just come from a tour of Auschwitz.
Chasing Echoes is filled with moments of great juxtaposition. It’s a story about a Jewish family finding increasing unease with contemporary life, yet searching for the truth of the past. It’s about how the black sheep of the family uses her wits to confront her deepest fears. And, it’s a story about how Jewish identity, no matter how it’s expressed, doesn’t define one’s destiny; rather, it’s the connection between a family — their words, their deeds, their blood, their souls — and how their bond grows through shared experience.
Our story begins by focusing on Phoenix-based Malka Solomon, the previously named black sheep of the family. She’s a single mom, slovenly, and down on her luck. She’s the family historian and the keeper of the family tree. Her life is at the lowest point when the book begins, but as readers learn more about her and the relationship she has to the large family, her general disposition seems to improve substantially. One of the most remarkable tonal qualities of Chasing Echoes is Goldman’s mix of darkness with optimism. His characters experience great challenges, often with each other, but also within themselves. There are a lot of complicated feelings that are often expressed only with a passing look. Yet, despite any initial feelings of uneasiness, the Bloom family’s trip to the Old Country provides them the perfect opportunity to open their hearts and let old wounds heal; it’s almost as if they are a microcosm of the Jewish community in its diverse entirety.
What propels the story forward, besides Goldman’s attentive writing, is Schall’s artwork, which is stunning. In brief, his art is clean yet expressive. Every face is unique, every set piece lovingly rendered. The effectiveness of Schall’s art, though, is the way in which there is not a piece of real estate on the page that’s wasted. Each panel, each sequence, each turn of the page is filled with meaning. Comics, more than probably any other medium, are best at subverting pure linear narrative and the creative team uses this technique to their advantage. The results are truly moving.
Family dysfunction and the Holocaust is not an unheard-of trope in comics. Heck, it was the basis of the first comic to ever win the Pulitzer Prize. But, Chasing Echoes is as much a book about the legacy of the Holocaust and its effect on a family as it is about a contemporary exploration of Jewish identity in a world where identity is questioned everywhere. Goldman and Schall have created an emotional, impressive story. Chasing Echoes is a remarkable book that connects the past and present effortlessly, inviting readers on a heart-wrenching and, ultimately, satisfying journey of a family’s reconciliation with history and themselves.