The opening spread of Greder’s tough, uncompromising book contains only the words “after he had finished drowning, his body sank slowly to the bottom, where the fish were waiting.” Hanging on to the right-hand edge of the page, like a doomed man on a capsizing boat, the words impel the turning of the page to confront a body drifting to the bottom of the sea, where, on the next page turn, the fish are indeed waiting. Seventeen double-page spreads visually depict scenes typical of many migrants’ stories, and a couple reflect more on those who instigate or benefit from the conditions that cause migration.
In a restaurant a fish – on what has it gorged? – on a large dish is served to two men, one dark-skinned, the other pale, who figure in later spreads. Greder’s scratchy charcoal artwork heightens stark images, showing scenes which readers will identify from news media: men dealing in guns, cargo (more guns?) loaded on to a ship, armed troops, a village devastated, people fleeing. Then a spread which shows the pale man from the restaurant talking to the people, and then the penultimate image of an overcrowded open boat, before the final scene where only the prow of the vessel is visible as it sinks beneath the water. And so, the reader is reminded of the opening pages and the feeding fish.
The images have no words to direct or distract the reader, leaving space for different readings and many questions. Is the light-skinned man an evil profiteer, capitalizing on a situation he has helped to orchestrate? Does he remind us of ourselves in our safer circumstances than those of the terrified villagers?
The book concludes with a short article by Alessandro Leogrande, a writer and journalist, who asks the reader to reflect on what causes people to take hazardous journey over land and sea to escape terrors of all sorts.
There will be great deal for readers of 11 to adult to interrogate and reflect on in this quietly stunning reminder that more than 12,000 people have died on the Mediterranean, many crammed into small boats like the one shown here.