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One of the ways graphic novels can be employed is to unravel a family secret. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is probably the classic example of this. Beldan Sezen’s work is less polished than Bechdel’s, but she too uses the medium to great effect.
Sezen’s story begins when her female narrator receives a package from her Turkish aunt, forwarded from her former address in Vienna. It’s a gift of her favorite lemonade, and includes a mysterious plea from her aunt begging for help, saying she fears for her life. Before the protagonist can respond, she gets a phone call informing her that her aunt has died.
Solving the mystery means returning to Istanbul to track down what has happened to Aunt Hala. A stop in Vienna at her former residence turns up another postcard from her aunt, with a picture of an unknown building with a flag prominently displayed, and yet another plea for help. In Istanbul, the narrator recognizes the building: it’s the French embassy, where her aunt worked.
The detective work begins, and the mystery unfolds. Turns out Aunt Hala died of a heart attack, but listening to a tape cassette she recorded while still alive reveals her fear of her husband. “I gave him my whole life. He will kill me.”
The plot thickens, and carries the narrator along on a jaunt through queer Istanbul, which includes a kiss from a past love, and a surprising discovery when the mystery is solved.
Sezen collages black and white cartoon drawings, photos, textures and ink washes together, and mostly it works, though I occasionally felt a little lost in the narrative. Most notable is her way of inserting her drawn characters into photo landscapes.
Zakkum (which means oleander in Turkish) shares a brief glimpse of queer life in Turkey, as a backdrop to the mystery. I hope in future books the background moves forward; I’d love to linger longer at Istanbul clubs, meet more of the narrator’s pals and lovers, and explore more queer life in the Middle East.
Zakkum: A Graphic Murder Mystery
By Beldan Sezen
Tree House Press