A graphic novel about loss and helplessness during World War II
Two lovers are separated at the beginning of World War II. When the conflict is over and they share their stories with each other, only one conclusion is possible: the life they had together has been decimated. Only fragments remain.
On Saturday, 4 May 1946, Victor stands in front of a gravestone that reads: ‘Our dear boy Christiaan C. Bender’. The war had only just begun when Chris was shot as Victor looked on. Could he have done something to save his friend? Although his name means ‘he who conquers’, he is racked with guilt about his failure to act until it was too late. He runs into Esther, a Jewish girl who was once his sweetheart, and tells her about his experiences.
Victor’s story mirrors that of the Dutch army, forced to capitulate to the Germans after a few days of battle, and that of the Dutch government, as symbolised by Queen Wilhelmina’s escape to London before the capitulation. Seemingly, the only character in Fragments who wanted to stand and fight – ‘I wish I could have done something… with my bare hands’ – was Chris Bender.
This graphic novel ends with an appendix, presenting documents and photographs from De Graaf’s own family history, in a village not far from Rotterdam. He describes how a couple of young soldiers crept into a farm on 10 May 1940 – the day of the German invasion – to take cover, ‘without having overpowered an enemy’. Powerlessness here too, in the historical reality.
De Graaf works painstakingly to create exactly the right aesthetic for his images. He uses atmospheric colouring and achieves a rough-edged texture by scanning lines drawn with Conté crayons. The visual rhythm of his pages radiates calm, a subtle representation of Victor’s introverted character.