There is something particularly powerful about the comic medium; why else would it be used to tell deeply personal stories like Hidden. You can piece together a lot about the contents of the story just from looking at the cover and thinking about the name and you’d probably be right. This is still a story that you need to experience regardless of what you think it’s about.
The story is told through the perspective of age as our main character is actually a grandmother. Her granddaughter Elsa wakes up in the middle of the night and finds her grandmother Dounia sitting on the couch looking sad. In the way only a child can, Elsa crawls her way into her grandmother’s arms and forces the story out of her.
From there and for the rest of the story we’re transported back to when Dounia was a child during World War II. We see the days before Jewish people were heavily persecuted and what the norm for Dounia was. Then one night her father tells her a lie. A simple lie to protect her as her mother sows stars on all of their clothing. He tells little Dounia that they’re family was asked to be sheriffs.
And there lies the strength of this story. It uses your knowledge of the events of WWII, the Holocaust and how frightfully scary it was to be a Jewish person in a Nazi occupied country. It doesn’t cram history down your throat and manages to find ways to simply explain the events as if it were being explained to… well a child.
Eventually what happens is that Dounia loses her friends, but she doesn’t know why. Nothing is different for her and her parents do their best to keep things normal for her. It’s a wonderful view into the world of a child that doesn’t see religion, nationality or anything else that clouds people’s minds when they look at other people. Instead you see how a child sees the world. Her friends are her friends and nothing changes that for her except for them.
Without giving away too much about the story, eventually the Nazi’s come from Dounia’s parents. Before they’re arrival though they hide Dounia and keep her safe. She stays for hours following her parent’s instructions until her downstairs neighbor finally finds her and brings her to her house. Thus begins Dounia’s life of being hidden.
What I think is powerful and different about this story compared to other tales that deal with the Holocaust and the atrocities committed towards the Jewish people during this time, is that it shows how it affected children and families. There were some that were protected from Concentration Camps, but their tragedy and journey was difficult for another reason. Dounia didn’t know what was going on and everyone kept her in the dark for her sake making everything scarier.
I don’t know if Hidden is based on a true story or if it’s just a compilation of stories made into one and frankly it doesn’t matter. The message is what matters and I’m glad that this story was told. I’m glad of the way it was told because while it touches on the bleakness of the events there is a sliver of hope that it delivers as well.
Another powerful thing about this story is that it’s appropriate for all-ages. Granted you will have to answer a lot of question from your child at the end, but it’s a conversation every parent should have. As for adults, it’s a good reminder for us as well. You don’t need a child in order to remember the horrible acts that were committed towards other human beings. This is a book worth experiencing so check it out.
Writer: Loïc Dauvillier
Artist: Marc Lizano
Colorist: Greg Salsedo
Translator: Alexis Siegel
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: 4/1/14