Monday, March 30, 2009

"History is Relatives": The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, an Illustrated Memoir by Ann Marie Fleming

"Distances and differences kept us apart, and we forgot to remind each other of our own stories."

Ann Marie Fleming was inspired to research and document her great-grandfather's life after her grandmother passed away. She was absolutely unprepared for what she found. This wonderful quirky book, adapted from Fleming's documentary film of the same title, follows her journey into her family's half-remembered past. A graphic memoir that recreates the intimacy of a family scrapbook, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam pulls together photos, posters, archival documents, comics, and illustration to tell its story with great liveliness and creativity. And, let's face it, Fleming lucked out in her subject matter--not all of us have a great-grandfather who was a world-famous Chinese acrobat and magician, and who led such a astonishingly colourful and eventful life.

I like the approach Fleming takes, not to simply tell us about Long Tack Sam but to show us her slow process of discovery. Her research takes her around the world, to China, Hawaii, Australia, and Europe. Some of the stories she hears contradict each other, and cannot be reconciled. From her conversations with magicians, acrobats, friends, family and neighbours, Fleming puts together the story of a charismatic and adventurous entertainer who created a place for himself on the world stage. This is a quick read, but a book I could return to many times with great pleasure.

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