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Graphic Medicine Novels: Soldier's Heart

 Soldier's Heart

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Bibliographic Record

 Title  Soldier's Heart: The Campaign to Understand My WWII Veteran Father: A Daughter's Memoir
 Author  Tyler, Carol
 Illustrator  Tyler, Carol
 Mental Illness  PTSD
 Publication Date  2015
 Publisher  Fantagraphics
 ISBN  978-1606998960
 # Pages  364
 Color Profile  Full Color
 Worldcat Link  http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/933300137
 Amazon Link  https://www.amazon.com/Soldiers-Heart-Campaign-Understand-Daughters/dp/160699896X
 Annotator  Tina L. Hefty

Summary

From the outset, Tyler refers to this book as an “epic tome,” which it truly is. Part personal memoir, part war story, this book touches on many themes, spanning decades along the way. Tyler documents her father’s experiences in World War II and after he returned home. We see him court his wife, marry, and have a family. While many happy stories are shared, traumatic experiences are also revealed, such as the death of a toddler from hot water burns. As her parents age, they overcome numerous health challenges, including the mother’s stroke, and the father’s chemotherapy. Meanwhile, Tyler reveals her own formative childhood experiences. Relationship challenges are interwoven, including Tyler’s temporary separation from her husband, and an at-times strained relationship with her daughter.

These and many other stories provide context for how Tyler’s father’s war experiences continue to affect the family. In an attempt to better understand her father, Tyler conducts numerous interviews with him and takes him on road trips to the National Archives and World War II Memorial. At the end of the book, her father breaks down, finally understanding how events in his life left him a broken man, and concluding that “love is the only way” (p. 337).

Presentation

The book contains 16 chapters and several companion stories, which are divided up into three sections. As the stories jump back and forth in time and from theme to theme, the writing style changes. Experienced author/illustrator Carol Tyler at times devotes full pages to written prose. Other sections of the book present with symbolic imagery and limited text. The remainder is traditional comics grids with running text and speech or thought bubbles. For being such a large book, Tyler does a commendable job of keeping the narrative organized, occasionally recapping what’s been covered so far while also providing helpful character profiles.

To accompany the text, Tyler’s stunning watercolor illustrations are the perfect complement to a story very much rooted in the past. Artistic symbolism is often employed, such as when she illustrates her father as a tree, which is firmly planted and cannot reciprocate displays of affection.

Mental Illness Narrative

Throughout the book, Tyler’s father displays numerous symptoms of PTSD. His behavior is especially telling. He displays social isolation, often referred to as being pained and distant. Agitation and irritability are observed, which Tyler describes as “random turbulence” (p. 122) and “those jolly-mad mood swings, fueled by alcohol, demons and exhaustion” (p.136). We see the hostile behavior, such as when he yells at his wife and his family. Additionally, we see self-destructive behavior, including heavy drinking.

On a psychological level, the book documents several of the father's flashbacks, including a time when he takes cover behind the couch when a passing vehicle backfires, and a time he chokes his wife when she surprises him in his sleep. Distrust of others is also observed, such as when the father exclaims, “Who the hell do you think you are stealing my stuff!” (p. 109).

Humanistic Revelations

There are numerous humanistic revelations throughout the book, but two themes dominate. First is that of “burying the past.” Not uncommon for individuals with PTSD, and especially true for veterans, is the tendency to cover up past trauma. Tyler explains: “He had buried Europe 1944-45 under tons of mental concrete. Exactly what happened—the details—we never knew…and with no evidence around the house—well…why not just forget it. Like it never happened!” (p.17). For a generation that grew up with nursery rhymes urging men to keep their feelings secret, this is not entirely surprising.

The second theme is the effect of PTSD on a family. Tyler honestly reveals the internal turmoil she experiences in that she both loves her father and resents him for his distance. She proclaims: “Would it’ve killed ya to’ve been, I don’t know, more PRESENT maybe? To’ve spent more TIME? Despite what happened to you??” (p.102). She goes on to convey the guilt associated with these feelings: “Why was I ignored? Why didn’t I matter to you? I don’t want to feel negatively towards you, but I do!” (p. 135).

Recommendations

Triggers: some nudity and sexual situations. Recommended for ages 14+

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