Saturday, August 10, 2013

Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch

How Mirka Met a Meteorite is the second Hereville book, about a spunky Orthodox Jewish girl who lives somewhere undefined: a small town or suburb nestled away in a forested area where, apparently, no goyim ever tread and what people do for a living is kept mysterious. (Perhaps it's the Orthodox utopia, since all we ever see the men doing is study.) I reviewed the first one as the middle book of a trio of completed unrelated graphic novels, and enjoyed the spunk but was left uneasy by the tension between Mirka's desires for her life and the clearly defined Orthodox culture that is devoted to turning her into something completely different.

(I'm still not sure how much of this Deutsch is doing consciously, but Mirka is exactly the kind of nail that gets hammered down hard in a society like this -- though people who believe in the values of that community would call it something like "sanding off rough edges.")

Meteorite is even starker about that tension; if the message of the first book was "a girl can have adventures and make her own way," this one comes down much more heavily on the old renormative standbys, "be careful what you wish for" and "know your place." Mirka herself does have a great moment of strength early in the story -- she saves her entire town -- but she's quickly outmatched by the meteorite, who is transformed into a simulacrum of Mirka by the witch from the first book.

So Mirka spends most of the book ineffectual, buffoonish, and useless -- doing badly both on her own terms (being a tough, self-reliant adventurer) and her society's (being a quiet, polite, hardworking, modest worker bee). She can't work out how to share her life with the meteorite, her anger and defiance do her no good, and a contest with the meteorite to decide "who is the best Mirka" becomes a series of painful failures. Mirka doesn't win out in the end so much as survive by luck and family -- again, not by the virtues that she's trying to live by, but by the things her society is trying to make her do: trust in God and do what her relatives tell her to.

I hope this series won't end with Mirka a quiet, respectable young woman, married to some man who doesn't seem to do anything but read, but it's difficult to see any other trajectory at this point. It's becoming clear that "Orthodox" is much more important to Hereville than "Mirka" is -- that's unusual for a series of stories in Western society, certainly, since we usually demand that our self-actuated heroes get everything they want because they want it, but, still, this particular twisting of that expectation is sad, for what Mirka could be and for what her society clearly is bent on turning her into.

1 comment:

Barry Deutsch said...

This was a REALLY interesting review of Hereville (and I've read them all!).

I hope you'll stick with the series. I don't like spoiling things, so I won't tell you how Mirka winds up. But I can promise that I am very conscious of the tensions you're talking about.

Also, regarding the ending, I agree that Mirka succeeded partly through family - I wanted Rochel to have a chance to shine. But I think Mirka also succeeds because she moved beyond her usual boundaries and was able to find real empathy for Metty's situation.

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