Yup – I really did! It was “Red Rosa” by Kate Evans, and this is the first time I’ve read a graphic novel since, ooh, probably around 1991 when I blubbed through “Maus”. If I’m honest, it’s not a genre I often dip into, much as I love good comic book art, but reading about this one on the Verso site (such temptation on there) made me keen to explore, and fortunately a proof was available via NetGalley. The book is out in November, and I really, really recommend it.
The titular Rosa is of course Rosa Luxemburg, left-wing thinker and revolutionary, and the book tells not only her life story, but also fills the reader in on her theories and thinking in a way that makes it approachable and understandable. Born into a Jewish family in Russian-controlled Poland, she had disadvantages from the start; her sex, her religion and a hip ailment causing a limp were all against her. But Rosa had a ferocious intelligence and fought for education and to go to one of the universities which would accept women. After obtaining her degree, she made her life in Germany, devoted it to the cause, as well as having a very healthy love life!
It’s clear from the graphic novel that Luxemburg was a formidable intellect, with many regarding her as on the same level as Marx (and indeed she did take many of his ideas and develop them further). She was involved in agitation all her life, imprisoned at times, and pivotal in the German revolution of 1918-19. However, as the book makes clear, the revolution failed when the Social Democrats (who should have been sympathetic to their cause) had the uprising crushed; and Rosa and fellow revolutionary Karl Liebknecht were brutally murdered.
“Red Rosa” is inspirational on a number of levels: there are Rosa’s feminist struggles in a world that is really not comfortable with intelligent women; her belief in her right to love who she wants when she wants; her anger at the poverty and inequality she encounters; and her constant fight to overcome the prejudice she meets as a Jew. Kate Evans’ artwork is excellent, capturing brilliantly Rosa’s look, and some of the larger spreads, covering double pages, are dramatic and impressive. The pages dealing with the effects of WW1 are stunning and the book is a perfect example of what a graphic novel can and should be. The book also succeeds wonderfully in explaining complex theories and issues, and is an excellent primer on Luxemburg’s thought. It does deal graphically (though always tastefully!) with her many loves, and gives a rounded portrait of a woman who was much more than just an anarchist bomb-thrower.
I was absolutely entranced by “Red Rosa”; both the artwork and the concepts made the book one I just couldn’t put down. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to read the life of an inspirational woman!
(Many thanks to publisher Verso and NetGalley for the proof copy – the book comes out in November, and I’d highly recommend getting a physical copy so you can appreciate the artwork properly. Kate Evans has a website here which is worth checking out).