Written by: Siddhartha Krishnan : 3 Min Read
If we ask the right questions, the chances of getting the required answers go up significantly. This is true for all human endeavors, including tracing human history from its origins to the birth of civilization.
I had read Yuval Noah Harari’s international bestseller, Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind two years ago, and the questions he asked in it piqued my interest right away. Also, the way he answered those questions in a language that was previously alien to historians was exemplary. This newness captured my imagination like no other reading of history had done before.
But with this graphic novel adaptation, Yuval and his team have gone a step further. They have presented history through colored illustrations, quirky fictional characters, and witty storytelling. And in doing so, attempted to reach out to all sapiens of today, to tell their story.
The graphic novel series is expected to be of five-volumes, of which two have been published so far. Volume 1 – Sapiens: The Birth of Humankind, focuses on the origins of humans, the rise of sapiens over other animals, the footprints they have left behind and the cognitive revolution. It reimagines human evolution as a TV reality show, through a globetrotting adventure where characters (some real and some imagined) are out to find answers to important questions regarding our evolution.
While Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, was all Yuval, this graphic novel, is a collaborative effort. Renowned comic artists, David Vandermeulen (co-writer) and Daniel Casanave (illustrator) are the key collaborators, along with colorist Claire Campion. They take us on a breathtaking adventure, through forests, deserts, grasslands and remote islands, switching often between the past and present.
The story is predominantly told through conversations, i.e. questions and answers with the right dose of humor. A good example of wit in this graphic novel is when Dr. Fiction (who wears a VR device, always) takes us to 1913 France, to meet Armand Peugeot, the founder of the automobile company, Peugeot. She explains the role that fiction has played in our evolution, using the growth story of Peugeot as an example. The conversation between the two was hilarious as well as enlightening.
However, despite taking creative liberties, in terms of its core messaging, the book mostly sails on the raft of scientific evidence instead of paying attention to the opinions of Dr. Fiction. This lends credibility to what the book finally says. By the end, I felt I had returned from a globetrotting adventure across the world. I got a glimpse of the places where our ancient ancestors lived, the food they ate, the language they spoke and the stories they told each other. This, for me, is the biggest triumph of this book.
There are, however, certain questions the book does not clearly answer because of a lack of conclusive scientific evidence. When tracing the 2-million-year evolutionary history of a species, you are bound to find such grey areas. Here, the writers have presented circumstantial evidence, and then tried to add things up. Just like in the original, here too, they have ensured that for these grey areas, both sides of the argument are provided to discerning readers, allowing them to decide which side they want to be on.
For me, this graphic novel is a winner, because it cuts through the information overload, and presents a complex evolutionary story in simple language, while also ensuring that the storytelling is entertaining enough to appeal to all. I have never read history in this way before, and for that, this collaborative effort deserves all the accolades that have come its way. Now, I can’t wait to get my hands on the second volume of this series – The Pillars of Civilization.
Siddhartha Krishnan is the author of Two and a Half Rainbows – A Collection of Short Stories. He is also an enthusiastic blogger and, on his website, www.whatsonsidsmind.com, he regularly puts out his essays, articles, travelogues and movie reviews.
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