Mira Jacob’s graphic memoir Good Talk is based around conversations Mira has with those around her in New York, between 2014 and 2016 with flashes back to her family in New Mexico and India. She has an extraordinary talent for dialogue that is at the centre here. Much of the story’s present is autobiography alongside her developing romance with Jed,a family story and most affectingly a story of how race in America impacts individuals and families.
The first scene is 2014. Mira and her 6-year-old son, Z, are discussing his obsession with Michael Jackson. Z and Mira are drawn, and then cut out leaving a white border around each figure and super-imposed on photos of Jackson album covers and cityscapes of New York. Z is asking questions: “Who taught him to dance?” and “What is a LaToya?” before he moves on to “Was Michael Jackson brown or white?” Later on, in reference to the murder of Michael Brown, Z asks, “Is it bad to be brown?” Mira replies, “No, it’s great being brown. We look good in colors! We have history! We don’t get skin cancer as easily!” These exchanges establish the narrative and the subject matter of the whole work, but Z wonders why his mother is “yelling at me.” The graphic style of the drawn figures on top of the photographs, sometimes augmented by photographic portraits of some of the characters, allows the story to happen in the actual settings. The photos often open the narrative up beyond the rooms where the conversations are taking place.
“ Now every question Z asked made me realize the growing gap between the America I’d been raised to believe in and the one rising fast all around us. I kept thinking if I could go back in time and make sense of the things I’d been told growing up, I would be able to give Z better answers. Maybe even find a way toward that better country. Soon though with news of the Black Lives Matter Movement flooding our televisions, and the rise of Donald Trump, I would have just as many questions as he did.”
The book progresses through her parents’ story of an arranged marriage and her family’s worries about her love marriage (defined by Mira’s mother as “a marriage that is not arranged.” to Jed, a Jewish man; an hyper-awareness of shades of skin color that comes from her family thinking that she is “not fair” and therefore “no beauty.” There are attempts to arrange a marriage for Mira that fail–all the time she is moving through relationships at school, college after college in Seattle and New York.
Around the middle of the book, 9/11 happens. The book turns here. Indians are taken for terrorists. Mira is mistaken for a young Indian woman who was lost in the twin towers who appears on a poster. The hope of America disintegrates from here on out as Trump’s rise after the hope of Obama, strains the relationships between Jed’s parents and their daughter-in-law and grandson.
This is a subtle examination of how race works for people of color set in a narrative where most of the time the stakes are emotional rather than life or death, and this allows those of us, who because we are white, don’t feel the slights and digs and mispeakings, another place to feel them as they happen. I read the memoir while at the same time reading Jacob’s impressive novel The Sleepwaker’s Guide to Dancing they echo each other. Give them both a try.