Review: Phoolan Devi, Rebel Queen GN HC
Based off the book I, Phoolan Devi: The Autobiography of India's Bandit Queen (1997), this HC is a powerful adaptation of Phoolan Devi's early life and is beautifully rendered by Claire Fauvel. Fauvel makes the immediate distinction that she wanted to base this book primarily on the autobiography, noting in the introduction that,
" The book is like a kick to the stomach out of which you don't escape unscathed. That is the tale I wanted to recreate in the graphic novel format, without trying to distinguish truth from fiction and reality from myth, and without claiming to provide a historical testimony. I simply used her own words, because they are of unparalleled sincerity, at times horribly violent and at other times imbued with the naïveté of childhood."
This is a powerful telling of the immense injustices Phoolan Devi experienced due to caste differences and her gender, and the book does not hold back from depicting the violence and pain she and many like her endured. So as such, this may be a hard book for many to read but it is an important story.
The book starts with her in prison circa 1994 and then flashes back, depicting her early life with her family and the poverty they suffered through. The harsh realities are constantly underscored by her own mother, who often resents her daughter for even existing and laments having had too many daughters.
The unrelenting nature of the disregard and abuse Phoolan Devi and many like her suffer through is drilled into the reader early on. Her story begins to focus on a long string of brutal hardships, including her marriage to a much older man and the subsequent abuse she would suffer.
After many dark turns after that point, the book progresses towards her being picked up by a pack of dacoits (bandits), and her long path of violence with them. From developing a relationship with a member who would be one of the first men to show her kindness to various acts of bloody revenge, we are introduced to the unique nature of the roaming bands of bandits in the region which allowed her to develop a Robin Hood type of infamy.
The book does not shirk from depicting her bloody desire for vengeance after her treatment at the hands of a rival bandit, which eventually would lead to the brutal execution of over twenty men in one village where she was previously abused.
Fauvel's storytelling is beautiful in its clarity and composition, as well as its ability in capturing the emotions of Phoolan Devi and those around her. The brutal honesty Fauvel depicts conveys the sincerity she mentioned in the introduction, portraying a woman who has suffered much and is motivated by anger and justice as she sees it.
There has been a rich proliferation of biographical and autobiographical graphic novels over the past few years and I love that there is such an amazing range of content available now. If you are inclined to check out comic biographies as a gateway into learning more about various historical figures then I highly recommend checking out this HC, which is well worth the $35 price tag. Plus, Fauvel includes some great suggestions for further reading as well so you can continue to learn more about Phoolan Devi.