UnterzakhnBook | Leela Corman By Phil Guie
It's the land of opportunity—for a price.
Set in the Jewish slums of turn-of-the-century New York City, Leela Corman's ambitious graphic novel Unterzakhn centers on the turbulent coming of age of twin sisters, Fanya and Esther. The girls are raised by a domineering mother who wants her daughters to become wives and child-bearers just like her. The girls, however, develop different ideas after befriending two unconventional women from their community: a local doctor who performs abortions and counsels women on birth control, and the madam at a glamorous burlesque house. As the sisters grow older, they become more like their mentors—Fanya evolves into a hard-hearted woman, Esther into a dancer and prostitute. Corman's narrative, in turn, splits up to follow the sisters' changing fortunes, as they pursue paths that elevate them above their parents' economic class, but at a cost to their hearts, bodies, and reputations. Unterzakhn is a poignant and bittersweet depiction of the immigrant experience and the sacrifices made in order to survive. But despite its many tragic moments, the mood of the book is never as dark as it could be thanks to Corman's visual style, which is clean and fluid, and emphasizes action and movement. It's a fitting aesthetic for characters whose survival hinges on making tough decisions and never looking back.