Released: May 2015
What would compel a man in his nineties to jump out a window to his death? What compulsion could cause someone to act in such a way? Though ostensibly asking grim questions such as these, Antonio Altarriba isn’t seeking to discover something unknown, as he already understands the reasons for his main character’s, his father’s, choice to end his life. The Art of Flying is the beautifully crafted story that explains the reasoning behind this seemingly unfathomable act.
This graphic novel, first published in Spanish in 2009 and only now hitting English-language shelves, captures the exhilarating highs and the tragic, heartrending lows that have pierced the long life of the man at the centre, the heart in fact, of this stunning graphic novel. Altarriba’s award-winning work traces the life of his father from rural, impoverished Spain to his young adulthood as a soldier in General Franco’s army and then his adventures with the anarchist rebels in the Civil War that shook the nation in the early twentieth century. Not content to dwell ultimately on those dramatic and traumatising (catastrophically so) years, this novel follows Antonio onwards through exile, his involvement in criminal enterprises, straight-leaning career aspirations, his adjustment to marriage, fatherhood and, finally, old age.
This is a beautiful work of literature – in its monochromatic illustrations and narrative – that delves courageously into some of the most shameful years of European history, by centring on one individual caught up in the revolutionary struggles of war-torn Spain. The Art of Flying covers Spain’s civil war and Second World War and their impact on the nation, as well as the way they influenced Antonio’s life and death.
A tremendous achievement, this graphic novel accomplishes and depicts many things: bildungsroman, war epic, mid-life crisis tale and PTSD story. Antonio is at one a lost boy, a wandering soul, a courageous hero and a doomed, fallible husband. The Art of Flying will leave a profound impact on you once you’ve finished reading, but you may not have the strength to dive into it for a second go. It may not be for everyone, but for whomever decides to read this volume, be prepared to be moved; to feel anger, joy, exhilaration and pain in the numbered pages of this sombre, admirable biography.