Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Saying It Through Images

On a recent visit to Kochi, German graphic artist, Line Hoven, talks about her novel, 'Love Looks Away'

Photos of Line Hoven by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

As the morning sun rays hit her face, at a hotel-bungalow at Fort Kochi, German graphic artist Line Hoven's mind has gone decades into the past.

“One day, in the 1930s, my grandfather heard the Overture No. 7 by the Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn. And he was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the song that for the first time he went into a mental conflict,” says Line, as she points at a black and white drawing of her German grandfather Erich Hoven. “He was brought up to think that the Jews were not good people. Then he realised that someone who has made such a beautiful piece of music cannot be a bad person. When he recounted to me this memory, he started crying.”

At the time, Erich was a member of the Hitler Youth. And when he grew up he joined the dreaded Schutzstaffel or the SS. It was a paramilitary organisation under the command of Hitler.

Erich had been featured in Line's graphic novel, 'Love Looks Away'. In fact, the book is on her family. While Line has German grandparents, she also has American grandparents, Harold and Katherine. Once when her American mother went on a student exchange programme to Bonn, she met Line's father, Reinhard, fell in love and got married. After a brief stint in America, the family settled down in Bonn, Germany, where Reinhard is a doctor.

Because of her mixed upbringing, Line is not sure where she belongs. “During my childhood, there was an anti-American spirit in Germany,” she says. “Americans were regarded as superficial, stuck-up, and people who ruined the environment. But when, in high school, I stayed in Texas for a year, someone wrote 'Nazi' on my locker door. It was hard for me to decide to which side I belong.”

To resolve these contradictions, Line worked on this book, with beautiful black and white drawings, done in a particular style. “On a white scratch board, I take a knife and cut away,” says Line. “The black emerges from underneath. This was a style that was invented in 1880.”

As for the meaning of the title, 'Love Looks Away', Line says, “I knew my grandfather was part of the Hitler Youth amd the SS, but I still decided to love him. When you love somebody, and when they don't do good things, sometimes, you look away.”

Thanks to the Bangalore-based Goethe Institute of Art, Line had come on a tour of India, with stops at Delhi, Hyderbad, Chennai and Kochi, to talk about her book.

Asked the charms of a graphic novel as compared to a word novel, Line says, “It is a different way to tell a story. You don't have to explain in words what you can show in pictures. I want the reader to come to their own conclusions. In a sense you have to 'read' the pictures.”

And Line is happy that there is a growing demand for graphic novels. One reason is because the world is moving towards a visual culture. Secondly, it is a new experience for all. Line's novel is now in its third reprint. “There is also an innate love for paper drawings,” says Line. “Probably, it reminds people of their drawing classes during their childhood.”

Meanwhile, Line is getting ready to work on her next book. Unusually, it is about ghosts. And she might even return to India in the near future. Because a Chennai-based children's publisher has offered her a month's residency, so that they could collaborate with her on a book. “I am excited about it,” she says.  

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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