Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The Forgotten Slaves Of Tromelin by Sylvain Savoia

The Forgotten Slaves Of Tromelin by Sylvain Savoia
First published in French as Les esclaves oublies de Tromelin in Belgium by Dupuis 2015. English language translation by Tom Imber published in France by Europe Comics in September 2016.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Looking Out To Sea

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Europe Comics

This story takes place on a tiny, far-flung island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, whose nearest neighbor is Madagascar, 500 kilometers away… In 1760, the Utile, a ship carrying black slaves from Africa, was shipwrecked here and abandoned by her crew. The surviving slaves had to struggle to stay alive in this desolate land for fifteen years… When this tale got back to France, it became the cornerstone of the battle of Enlightenment to outlaw slavery. More than two hundred years later, the artist Sylvain Savoia accompanied the first archeological mission in search of understanding how these men and women, who had come from the high mountains of Madagascar, had survived alone in the middle of the ocean. This is the story of that mission, through which we’re exposed to the extraordinary story of the slaves themselves.

My second graphic novel for October and I am rapidly becoming a fan of Europe Comics offerings. The Forgotten Slaves Of Tromelin tells the true story of a ship full of Madagascan slaves who were left abandoned on a tiny deserted island in the 1770s. This book is an obvious choice for an October scary story! Forget any ideas you might have of romantic desert islands - Tromelin is one mile long by a half mile wide and, other than seabirds, turtles and hermit crabs, there was absolutely nothing there.

Alongside the historical tale, we also see Savoia's experience as he accompanies a French archaeological team to Tromelin where they will search for any remaining evidence of the slaves' existence on the island. It's still a pretty bleak place 200 years later. I enjoyed the contrast between the two time periods. Savoia describes his own hopes and reactions to Tromelin as well as vividly recreating what can be pieced together of the original sea voyage and its aftermath. As readers we are introduced to the other members of the modern-day team, several of whom are returning to Tromelin and one, Joel, is making a film about the excavations and the forgotten slaves. Despite scouring navy archives for any remaining documentation, more is unknown than known so there's plenty that can be learned and extrapolated from unearthed artefacts and buried hut walls. I didn't realise I would get this narrative alongside the history so this was a real bonus for me. It also means that the Forgotten Slaves graphic novel is a considerably more in depth work than it could have been if only the remnants of the original story were available.

I can't begin to imagine how terrifying the whole experience of being ripped from their homes, transported, and then abandoned would have been for the Madagascans. This is a story that certainly should not be forgotten so reminders such as Savoia's work are vitally important. He manages to make this graphic novel simultaneously sobering but also entertaining which is quite the feat. I loved the expression and emotions put across in his illustrations too. The differing styles clearly demarcate the timelines. My only criticism would be that the font is very small so I had to keep enlarging and then scrolling the pages, but this is a relatively minor flaw in an otherwise fascinating book.

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  1. This sounds like a really moving novel. I have never heard of this event and I cannot imagine what it must have been like to try to survive in such an environment. Great find!

    1. I hadn't heard anything about Tromelin before either, but Savoia's presentation makes the story vivid and memorable

  2. This sounds great, and how terrifying for those people. Especially with nothing there to work with... how awful. Glad they're being remembered...

  3. A true story, how interesting. No, I would imagine that in reality there is nothing romantic about being stuck on a deserted island. That whole thing must've been terrifying for the slaves. Glad it turned out to be a good book!

    1. Thank you so much for getting me in to graphic novels! I'd never have discovered this story otherwise :-)

  4. Oh, they had really terrible fates and I really can imagine that this book fasinates you. I think it is important that we follow up also with such themes ... Thanks a lot for sharing!
    xx Rena

    1. It's so important to remember, I think, so as never to repeat


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