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Zenobia

Review

Zenobia

written by Morten Durr with illustrations by Lars Horneman

Zenobia, the third century queen of Syria, was powerful and intelligent, known for her compassion and tolerance. She has gone down in history as a heroine worthy of much tribute and celebration. Though perhaps not well known to those outside of the region of her influence, for a young Syrian girl, Queen Zenobia would be a symbol of bravery, beauty, leadership and heart. And so it is Zenobia’s name that writer Morten Dürr and illustrator Lars Horneman take for the title of their graphic novel about the Syrian crisis and it is Zenobia’s tale of courage that comforts their character, Amina, as she tries to escape her war torn country.

"ZENOBIA is a beautiful and heart-wrenching book. Both Dürr’s words and Horneman’s images are sparse and clean --- allowing the story to unfold simply and deliver its gut punch..."

Amina is at sea in an overcrowded boat when it is capsized by a rough wave. Like most people on the boat, she lacks a lifevest and so sinks into the “big and empty” ocean. She realizes she will not be found. Her thought, “no one can find me here,” brings her back to a happy memory of playing hide and seek with her mother. She remembers, too, cooking delicious foods with her mother before the war came and before her parents left her all alone. Her mother’s last words to her were to remember Zenobia, the strong warrior and queen. The story of Zenobia keeps Amina company as she waits for her parents to return, when she leaves her home with her uncle, when she walks with him through the devastated streets, and as he finally puts her on the boat, hoping to get her to safety. The story of Zenobia comforts Amina as she remembers home and as she sinks to the bottom of the ocean. The MS Zenobia, bound for Syria sank on her maiden voyage in 1979 and lies wrecked off the coast of Cyprus. The wreckage presents a stark counter-image to that of the vibrant queen and a terrible last encounter for the dying Amina.

The relationship, in image and in narrative, between Amina, Queen Zenobia and her sunken namesake ship, is compelling and complex, one that the youngest readers may not grasp without some guidance. Yet, this is a book worth sharing even with children who may struggle to understand. ZENOBIA offers a touching and poignant and all too human perspective on the Syrian war and refugee crisis in particular and war and its consequences in general.

ZENOBIA is a beautiful and heart-wrenching book. Both Dürr’s words and Horneman’s images are sparse and clean --- allowing the story to unfold simply and deliver its gut punch without any extraneous text or pictures. More mature readers will understand the inevitability that Amina’s story is moving toward, however that will do nothing to diminish its force. This is a potent, relevant, timely and very, very sad book that will haunt readers of all ages and ask them to think about the world in new, and more personal ways.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on November 29, 2018

Zenobia
written by Morten Durr with illustrations by Lars Horneman