Second-time graphic novelist Miriam Katin’s “Letting It Go” is a dazzlingly drawn yet disappointing autobiographical novel about reconciling a modern Germany and the Holocaust, or, broadly, about coming to terms with one’s past. Katin, a child-survivor herself, learns that her son, Ilan, is moving to Berlin for work; she struggles with the implications of him living in a place that has caused great pain to her family in the past. Ilan requests that Miriam use her Hungarian ancestry to help him procure E.U. citizenship. While she assents, the idea that her son would be living in what was once the heart of the Holocaust is deeply disconcerting to her. “Letting It Go” finds Miriam coming to terms with the existence of a liberal, pluralistic Germany.
Once Ilan has moved, Katin and her husband fly to Berlin to visit their son in his new life—one that immediately reveals itself to be a life lived like it would be anywhere else. The Berlin they encounter is a gorgeous, retrospective, self-aware city intent on moving forward into the future while retaining a firm, mournful grip on the past. As she explores, Katin finds herself amazed at the quality of food, the tastefulness of the myriad Holocaust memorials, and the general friendliness of Berliners. She gradually becomes more comfortable with the idea of Ilan living in the hometown of the Third Reich, and by the end of the novel, we are left with a sense that Katin has been thoroughly wooed.
That’s kind of a problem. Once one has sufficiently internalized the mesmerizing, impressionistic pencil-sketches of Katin’s artwork, what’s left is a flat, disappointing narrative with little to no insight into the issue that is fundamental to Katin’s anxiety. “Letting It Go” suffers from a void of character development; Katin’s husband and son come across as mere talking heads of dissent and impatience, and in fact would more accurately be defined as her conscience playing devil’s advocate. One wishes that there would be sounder exploration of the themes at hand: Is it OK to forgive? How does one begin to move on from something like the Holocaust? And is it wise to even try? These questions go unasked.
At the end, once Katin has been adequately enticed by the cuisine and memorials, she comes around to accepting Berlin as a place that is not only peaceful, but deeply remorseful. And while that is certainly true, her path toward that realization appears to have been coaxed by the city’s enchantments and not through personal struggle and discovery as is more likely the case. And because of that, “Letting It Go” reads more like a children’s book focusing on a field trip to the scary big city than it does a painful but necessary reconciliation of the past with the present.
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