Dance in the wonders of an uncontrollable love affair….
by Judith Vanistendael
“This is a beautiful, unexpected tale, told from the heart, which reaches beyond the story that originally inspired it. It tells of a young woman who is madly in love, and a father who, in spite of his prejudices, stands up for her love… More than that, it is about families, growing up, heartbreak and real life”
Dance By The Light Of The Moon has a fascinating genesis. Vanistendael describes it as a “semi-autobiographical” story that she was was moved to write it in response to her journalist father’s short story “Message From The Fortress” where he described his feelings about his daughter’s relationship with a Togolese political refugee. It was originally published as two books; the first telling the story from her father’s perspective, the second told by Vanistendael’s protagonist Sophie to her daughter.
And it’s a wonderful, emotional, heartfelt book, unfailingly real in it’s character’s reactions to a complicated and difficult issue. Added to that Vanistendael’s artwork is simply lovely; fluid, scratchy black and white art that perfectly transcribes every bit of the difficult and joyous relationship that Vanistendael / Sophie finds herself swept up in.
(Sophie’s father and her lover exchange tentative pleasantries over food. From Dance by the Light of the Moon by Judith Vanistendaez, published by SelfMadeHero.)
The first half of this SelfMadeHero release follows Sophie as she meets and falls madly in love with Abou, her Togolese asylum seeker, freshly arrived in Belgium. Told from her father’s perspective it unflinchingly addresses his initial prejudices towards this intruder in his daughter’s life, this stranger stealing his little girl away.
Gradually, as he gets to know his daughter’s lover, he warms to Abou, partly through gaining an understanding of Abou’s life, but mostly through every father’s heartfelt desire to do anything to avoid driving their daughters away. We learn of the intricacies and injustices of the asylum system, as Sophie’s family find themselves drawn into the complex beaurocracy and red tape around Abou’s case. And all the while we see Sophie and Abou swept up in their love, a passionate, uncontrollable affair that neither can stop, even if they wanted to.
(The inevitable rejection of Abou’s asylum status and Sophie’s father finds the strength to support his daughter in whatever she choses to do. From Dance by the Light of the Moon by Judith Vanistendaez, published by SelfMadeHero.)
Her father’s retelling of her story ends with Sophie and Abou’s marriage, reluctantly agreed by her parents, partly driven by love, partly a final, desperate gambit to ensure Abou’s safety and guarantee his resident status.
This first half has an incredible pace to it, reflecting perfectly that unforgettable thrill of an uncontrollable love affair, that careers and spills through your life like a train going off it’s tracks. Many of us have experienced something similar; a love that takes over your emotions, becomes all consuming, uncontrollable, something you couldn’t stop, even if you wanted to.
And it’s here, captured by Vanistendaez, perfect in it’s passion and it’s intensity and it’s sheer unstoppable momentum. The eventual marriage feels almost inevitable, such is the truth Vanistendaez has instilled through her pages, this can be the only outcome, the only way to keep her love alive.
(A beautiful page from the second half of Sophie’s tale, as she tells her daughter of her time with “her African prince”. From Dance by the Light of the Moon by Judith Vanistendaez, published by SelfMadeHero.)
The second half of the story is told in flashback, years later as Sophie tells her young daughter of her African love after bumping into him once more. Sophie is married to someone else now and completely content and happy in the next phase of her life.
But the chance meeting and her child’s insistent questions lead her to tell her story over again; from meeting Abou, their intense, uncontrollable love affair and eventual marriage, all the way through to their eventual breakup as Sophie finds herself unable to cope with the pressures of the relationship and Abou fails to overcome the demons of another life haunting his mind.
(Abou’s experiences in Togo return to haunt him and eventually destroy his and Sophie’s relationship. From Dance by the Light of the Moon by Judith Vanistendaez, published by SelfMadeHero.)
Just as the first half is full of uncontrollable passions and careers along with the breakneck speed of a relationship no-one involved has any control over, this second half, told in flashback, is a more controlled affair, taking a more complete look at the relationship. It allows Vanistendaez time to introduce doubt, highlight the many pressures and problems these two lovers must face and by the end, we’re not surprised that neither of them were strong enough to see it through.
This is a wonderful book, beautifully told, with a real ring of truths told about it. No-one is allowed to be perfect, everyone has their flaws and Vanistendaez produces an accomplished work of semi-autobiography. Her artwork is in turns easy on the eye and complicated, symbolism laden, hauntingly beautiful. But it never relents, always serves the story, and it’s a wonderful, unfailingly real story that you’ll remember long after closing the book.
Dance by the Light of the Moon continues SelfMadeHero’s impressive series of European graphic novels. It’s available from 30th September.