The circumstances that spur one to pick up a book can many times be an intriguing part of the reading experience. In regards to graphic novels there are numerous aspects that can spark this interest; whether it is an eye catching cover, a tantalizing title or a captivating excerpt. There must be something in its packaging and delivery to capture you as a potential reader. As such, I am always pleasantly surprised when perusing a list of books how one can serendipitously call out to you. Such was my experience when reading Paco Roca’s “Twists of Fate.” Easily dismissible to a younger audience, nothing surrounding Twists of Fate’s packaging is remarkable. Yet, it called out to me with a simple mention of a Spanish veteran. This speck of a connection from a shared heritage nearly a century past was enough to commit myself to the book, and it has opened up an entire world I was previously oblivious to.
Written and Illustrated by Paco Roca
Miguel Ruiz is a Spanish veteran exiled in France who was a member of “La Nueve” (“The Nine”), a company of men that went straight from fighting for their homeland in the Spanish Civil War to battles spanning the globe in WWII. Their years-long trek across Europe and Africa was spurred on by their love for their country and their hatred for brutal dictatorships. Roca uses the composite character Ruiz’s “memories” to tell a story that’s an ode to a generation that bravely stood up to, and beat back, violent fascism.
“Twists of Fate” details the trials, travels and World War II adventures of Miguel Ruiz. Miguel was part of the Spanish Republican faction that had been pushed out of Spain in 1939 by the Fascist Franco regime. From there his life takes a meandering route as Miguel is cast from one conflict to the next, until he finds himself with his fellow Spanish Republicans fighting for the liberation of France. His life is one of turmoil and hardship, with a rare fortuitous turn to maintain his motivation. Ultimately, Miguel’s exploits throughout Europe place him at numerous key moments, all the while he simply pines to see Spain freed from its fascist chains.
“Twists of Fate” sheds a rare light on aspects of WW II which are at best dismissed from the American viewpoint, if not outrightly ignored. With the war and its subsequent effects so intertwined with the American way of life, it is easy to forget that WW II’s influence spreads beyond that of the United States, England, France, Germany and Japan. In the seventy years since its resolution our desire to neatly package the war into a concise affair which can be easily digested has pushed many of its participants to the side. Thus, while there is no shortage of movies and books detailing the Allies retaking of France, few include the Spanish involvement. Even if the books styling and pacing is not to your liking, its significance in bringing to light such oft dismissed historical moments to the general comic buying population is invaluable.
Luckily the book’s historical and fictional aspects are thoroughly enjoyable, making it a brisk read, even at over 320 pages. Roca is a cartoonist first and foremost, so those expecting a more traditional comic book experience may be disappointed with the simplistic art style and color. Nevertheless, his style is reminiscent of those shared by history’s most celebrated political cartoonists. While Roca’s work is devoid of an intense amount of detailed pencils, his mastery of the art form shows through in his character’s ability to emote complex emotional moments. As a reader you are never left lacking, easily connecting with Miguel and the cast that surrounds him through various points in his life.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the book is Roca’s self-inclusion, as his journey to find Miguel and draw out his story is as important to the book as Miguel’s story itself. Comics are a rare art form that lend themselves to such storytelling points, where the quest for the story can be as entertaining as the story. Paco, as a character, adds substance and connectivity to Roca’s narrative. The alternative viewpoints of a young and old Miguel bring with it a sense of compassion for the character. This makes the losses which he has to bear more significant to the reader, while also opening the door to potential critiques and judgements. It is not difficult to imagine “Twists of Fate” reimagined into a different medium, with the crux of the storytelling revolving around Paco and the older Miguel.Continued below
As lovely of an experience as it was to read “Twists of Fate,” far be it for me to suggest that this is a book all should read. However, if you find historical narratives entertaining. Or, like myself, have some generational link to Spain, then it will be well worth your time and investment to pick it up. Roca has created a masterful piece of literature, and calling it “the Spanish Maus” is definitely not hyperbole.