Notes for a War Story by Gipi

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Notes for a War Story
By Gipi
First Second Books

GipiThis is not a war story—at least no more so than your standard coming of age tale. Sure the specter is there, an isolated landscape defined by bloody conflict come and gone, but save some verbal reminders between characters and the occasional incident, Notes for a War Story could have easily taken place during a time of peace, where feelings of isolation amongst adolescents are nearly always present, even without the backdrop of abandoned villages and bombed out buildings to give a physical reminder of their persistence.

Gipi is quick to introduce us to his trio of primary characters, mapping out their age-old relationships, even as he first unfolds their setting, looking out across a desolate landscape, on the first page of the book, over artwork painting the story with panels that read like faded black and white photography.
There’s Guiliano, arriving from off panel, the outsider in a band of outcasts, and as such, the only one who could serve as out true protagonist and narrator, having abandoned a life of relative privilege to follow the others down an uncertain path across no-man’s land. Little Killer, it seems, is that rare character who wears a Napoleon complex like some badge of courage, befriending older thugs through the readiness with which he tells them to fuck off. Christian, quietly smoking a cigarette, a boy who is aged physically far beyond his years, is all too happy to take marching orders from his diminutive leader.

The trio are petty thugs, in search of ways to escalate their schemings, a task that would no doubt be nearly impossible to achieve, without the aide of an older band of males, happy to send them on an escalating series of questionable errands, Little Killer the sole recipient of the orders, with his mates the in tow helping to carry out his interpretations of the plans. Beyond these two bands, we get no meaningful character portraits, Gipi careful to leave their interactions as sparse as the villages they inhabit, and as translator, Alexis Siegel, is careful to point out in the book’s afterward, one almost entirely lacking female counterparts, save for a few minor roles, which operate mostly in the background.

Signs of friendship are also few and far between, replaced by perpetually hardened façades and a self-regulated system that subtracts ‘points,’ every time one of the characters displays a sign of weakness in the face of chaos that surrounds them.

Ultimately, the war in the background must come to the forefront. It’s only possible to live in the battle’s scars for so long, and as it sweeps them up, it’s clear that, no matter how mature they’ve believe themselves to have become over the course of the book, as is so often the case for young men throughout history, war becomes the ultimate right of passage, a conclusion which Gipi is happy to leave opened-ended, because in a story such as this, the end is the place where our formally universal paths finally define us as individuals.

Notes for a War Story is never the less a full and satisfying book, as it’s through the book’s defining abiguities that the truths quite brilliantly shine.

–Brian Heater

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