Good Talk: A Mem­oir in Conversations

  • Review
By – July 1, 2019

From its first dia­logue box, Mira Jacob’s Good Talk is an unusu­al and sin­gu­lar graph­ic mem­oir. The trou­ble began when my six-year-old son Z. became obsessed with Michael Jack­son,” the open­ing line reads. Imposed behind this image is the cov­er of Jackson’s break­through solo album, Off The Wall. Sport­ing a broad smile and a per­fect­ly coiffed afro, this is Jack­son just before his absolute prime and when any­one could sim­ply point to him and say that he was African Amer­i­can. But Z.,” as Jacob calls her young son, has a fol­low-up inquiry: Was Michael Jack­son brown or was he white?”

These child­like ques­tions inform the foun­da­tion of Good Talk, a book that explores the dif­fi­cul­ty of explain­ing racial and cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty in a post­mod­ern era where such traits are used as much to divide as they are to pro­vide com­mu­nal secu­ri­ty. Jacob uses her dis­cern­ing ear and propen­si­ty to write hon­est­ly about an immi­grant nation that has seem­ing­ly turned on her immi­grants. Her sto­ry is emblem­at­ic of con­tem­po­rary chal­lenges — Jacob, her­self, is Indi­an, her hus­band Jew­ish, and her son a proud tes­ta­ment to the plu­ral­is­tic nature of the Amer­i­can experiment.

What sets this book apart from oth­ers is the den­si­ty of the dia­logue. Unlike a typ­i­cal graph­ic nov­el, near­ly every page is stuffed to the brim with text. The nar­ra­tive thrust of the book is three­fold: look­ing back, look­ing to the present, and pon­der­ing the future. Jacob inves­ti­gates her own Indi­an family’s immi­gra­tion and assim­i­la­tion in Amer­i­ca, wres­tles with that past while attempt­ing to fig­ure out her place in the world, and final­ly tries to reck­on with the dis­turb­ing anti-immi­grant rhetoric that flows down from the high­est polit­i­cal echelons.This is all while try­ing to answer her mul­ti­eth­nic son’s ques­tions about the promi­nence of race and xeno­pho­bia in Amer­i­ca today.

The book’s strongest pas­sages are when Jacob dis­cuss­es the quirks of her life as a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the mod­ern Amer­i­can con­di­tion. She wres­tles philo­soph­i­cal­ly with her hus­band about how to explain post-post-racial pol­i­tics, how her Indi­an fam­i­ly is skep­ti­cal of his Jew­ish­ness (and thus, his white­ness), and how America’s metas­ta­sized racism nev­er tru­ly left our cul­tur­al milieu.

Jacob uti­lizes a sta­t­ic, paper-cutout style to rep­re­sent the char­ac­ters of her book. It can be jar­ring, but does reflect the fact that the book is based on con­ver­sa­tion rather than action. Although the art doesn’t com­ple­ment the writ­ing as much as it could have, it still pro­vides a stark statement.

Good Talk is a com­ic that doesn’t shy away from work­ing through pain to gain clar­i­ty. This makes it a strik­ing­ly effec­tive mem­oir and an impres­sive graph­ic nov­el work all in one.

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