Mar 26, 2009

Heartbreak Soup by Gilbert Hernandez

Heartbreak Soup is the first volume of Hernandez’s stories about Palomar, a fictional small town somewhere in Latin American (population: 386), and the lives of its inhabitants. Palomar has been called the Macondo of comics, and it’s easy to see why. In fact, it’s no coincidence that at one point one character reads One Hundred Years of Solitude and says, “It’s funny and sad and warm and sleazy and…and progressive and crazy and intelligent and just plain brilliant..!” It is, and so is Heartbreak Soup.

I’ve said before that I don’t like divorcing the text from the art when talking about comics. But Heartbreak Soup begins with a long piece of narration that perfectly sets the tones for the stories that follow, and I really want to give you a taste:
As well as giving baths for a living in those days, Chelo was also a midwife. She can tell you stories. It was Chelo who talked Vincent’s mother Gabriela into not drowning him when he was but a few minutes into our grey world. Jesus Angel took two days to remove himself from his weary mother Rita. Witnesses to the birth agreed it looked like Jesus might stay inside his mother forever, but the moment after Chelo suggested a caesarean section, out he came as if he had heard her and understood that he was already making things difficult for everybody. Aurora and Israel were burn to Elissa and Juan Diaz without incident. Four years later when the twins were playing jacks in the street, a total eclipse struck; the sunshine returned soon enough and everything seemed normal, save one thing: Aurora was gone.
And so they begin, the stories about Chelo, the midwife turned sheriff who carries the burden of the whole town’s secrets; about Luba, unmarried with four daughters, desired by men and mistrusted by women, and constantly having to deal with gossip; about Pipo, pregnant by Manuel at age fourteen and later married to abusive Gato; about Manuel and Soledad’s tragic friendship. And so on.

This is brilliant stuff. Palomar really comes to life in these pages. The more I read, the more I grew to like the characters, and the more satisfying the stories became. These characters are flawed and funny and tender and tremendously human, and by the end I cared deeply about them all. The book gets better and better as it moves along. When I reached the end, in fact, I went back to the start and read the first story again. Now that I knew the characters intimately, I appreciated it a lot more. And let me tell you, it took some self-restraint to keep myself from reading through the whole thing again.

The stories span years, and they deal with topics like loneliness and disappointment, sex and love, friendship and parenthood, small town gossip, sexism, community, domestic violence. You name it: if it’s human, it’s in here somewhere. And this being Latin America, we do get out share of supernatural occurrences—there are ghosts and mischievous spirits and brujas wailing for their long-dead babies in the night.

Gilbert Hernandez has written many stories about Palomar. They actually began as part of the Love and Rocket series he wrote with his brother Jaime. For this reason, I was confused about where to start reading the Palomar stories for a while, but then I came across this handy reading order guide. Now that I’m done with the first book, I will soon be ordering a copy of Human Diastrophism. I can’t wait to meet these characters again.

Other Opinions:

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. Yikes! Sounds like a lot is going on in this. Honestly, I'll probably not put this on my list but I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

  2. I have been enjoying graphic novels, but find them difficult to review. I really enjoyed your review.

  3. You have the best taste in graphic novels, I swear! I never thought I'd be interested in reading them until I started following your blog. Now I have tons on my tbr list!

  4. I've never heard of this one before! But I'm sure glad I have now. I always love it when I find GNs that I've never heard of, because it always seems like I've seen them all already. Looking forward to this one!

    Have you seen the Where the Wild Things Are trailer?! It's amazing!! It reminds me of Michael Gondry...looking forward to it...a LOT. What's the song playing in the trailer? Is it The Arcade Fire? I really like it!

  5. I've only recently discovered graphic novels, but this one sounds great - I've added it to my wishlist.

  6. Dammit, Nymeth! What on earth am I going to do with you?!! You already know without me even saying it that I'm going to have to find this book, don't you?

    Ooooh, but I could use it for the Latin America challenge...oh yes, a bit of rationalization always helps the situation.

  7. sounds like a great graphic novel. gonna hafta read it now! :-)

  8. Lol. Gilbert Hernandez is the name of my cousin. But not the same guy of course. Anyway, this sounds great.. the Macondo of comics, wow.. on to the TBR!

  9. I've always though Hernandez' art looked great but I have yet to read any of the many books that have been put out.

  10. How interesting! I am REALLY new to graphic novels but I am intrigued by your review. I think I'll have to give it a try :)

  11. Do you inhale books? I'm having a hard time keeping up with you LOL! Interesting graphic novel...I'll more than likely pick it up to read sometime!

  12. How do you discover these books?? Another one for the must find graphic novel list. I was really disappointed when I went to the giant used bookstore in Dallas this afternoon with my list of graphic novels and didn't find a single one. I think it might have been the organization, though--mostly catagorized by the publisher and I didn't quite know what to do with that.

  13. You always do such a great job reviewing, you make me want to read everything!

  14. Great review, Nymeth!
    Oh no, you’re not helping with my TBR pile at all! LOL.

  15. Care: Not quite as much going on as in A Hundred Years of Solitude, but still a lot, yes :P

    Mo: Thank you so much :D

    bermudaonion: That's why I always try to include some of the artwork...I'm bad at explaining what it is that I like about it, so I try to show you all instead :P

    Amanda, thank you :D Makes me happy to hear I'm getting you interested in them.

    Chris: I love finding new ones to read too. The trailer really is amazing! The song is Wake Up by The Arcade Fire, though the version is different from the one on the album...I wonder if they re-recorded it for the soundtrack. That would be awesome. And I can see why you mentioned Michel Gondry. I always associate him with Spike Jonze, but I guess it's because both worked with Charlie Kaufman :P

    Jackie, I hope you enjoy it when you get to it :)

    Debi: lol, yes, rationalization helps :P Maybe your library will have this!

    Marie, hope you enjoy it :)

    Mariel: Isn't it? :)

    Claire: lol, it would be cool if the author was your cousin :P And I knew that "the Macondo of comics" would get people's interest :D

    Naida, thanks.

    Carl: It's hard to decide where to start, isn't it? But this one worked very well as an intro!

    Sam: I hope you do give it a try!

    Staci: lol! Now, I haven't come to that quite yet :P

    Trish: This one had been on my wishlist for a while so I can't quite remember, but I think Neil Gaiman might have been to blame...if I'm not mistaken, he mentioned being a fan of the series. And wow, organized by publishers...I'd have been lost too.

    Priscilla, that's what blogs are for :P

    Melody: Yes I am..I'm ADDING to it. It WANTS to grow :P

  16. I like graphic novels but I don't read them very often and sometimes I think I would like it better as a regular novel which is what I thought reading this (I'm usually wrong because the art adds an interesting dimension).

  17. Well, I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez so if this reminds you of his fictional settings then I'm all over it! Thank you for bringing this graphic novel to my radar!

  18. This sounds really fun. Another graphic novel added to my list... :P

  19. This isn't the sort of graphic novel I would normally pick up, but it does sound interesting. Thanks for reviewing it, I will see if the library has a copy.

  20. Ladytink: For me, the really great ones are the ones you couldn't even imagine in a different medium. And I think that's the case here!

    Iliana, I can see you really enjoying this one!

    tanabata, hope you enjoy it!

  21. I saw some autographed stuff by him at the comicon this past weekend...but I was trying to be good! Too many tempting things!


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