May 27, 2009

Human Diastrophism by Gilbert Hernandez

In this sequel to Heartbreak Soup, we return to Palomar and to the lives of its inhabitants. While the first Palomar book was a collection of interconnected stories, Human Diastrophism is actually a full-length graphic novel. The main story, however, is preceded and followed by shorter stories in the style of the first book.

In Human Diastrophism, a serial killer is on the loose in Palomar. But this being Palomar, the story isn’t really about the serial killer – it’s about how a series of events affect the character’s lives. Luba’s ex-lover Khamo, the father of her daughters Doralis and Casimira, returns to Palomar. Luba’s oldest daughter, Maricela, falls in love with another girl. Tonantzin’s fierce idealism, and the ways in which she chooses to express it, worries her sister and her friends. And this is only the beginning of what this book covers. Like Heartbreak Soup, it spans several years, so we see a middle-aged Luba, some characters leaving Palomar, an earthquake affection the town, and even a beloved character meeting a tragic end.

Human Diastrophism is darker than the first Palomar book, but it’s just as intelligent, tender, human, sad, humorous, and emotionally satisfying. The characterization is, if possible, even more detailed and complex. And again, it’s the characters that really make this story. You cannot help but care about all of them.

Another thing that makes Human Diastrophism so interesting is the fact that we get to see the impact the outside world is beginning to have in Palomar. The town still doesn’t have a phone, and Luba’s small theatre receives movies years after the rest of the world has seen them. But as protective as sheriff Chelo is of the town, the outside world cannot be kept at bay forever. By the end of the book, several characters have settled in North America, and regularly come and go to Palomar.

As much as I love all of Hernandez characters, Luba just might be my favourite. So I was very happy that in this book we learn more about her past. I was also very excited when Fantagraphics Books announced a book collecting all the stories about her life outside Palomar. I suspect I’ll be getting my hands on it before long.

If you like great characterization, stories about small towns, or Latin American literature, then the Palomar stories are for you.

Other Opinions:

(If I missed yours, let me know.)


  1. Nymeth, I have never ever read a graphic novel. Where would you recommend I start?

  2. I think I told you before that I got Palomar through inter-library loan. But unfortunately I only got about 100 pages in when I found out someone else put it on hold so I couldn't renew it. :( I seriously might have to just buy it, because I was really enjoying it! Though I do have to admit that it took me a little while to really get into it...I kept confusing a handful of the male characters for some reason and would have to backtrack to clear things up in my head. I was only just starting to like Luba when I had to return the book. (I didn't like her when she first moved into town and "stole" Chelo's customers.) I'm glad to hear it just keeps getting better as it continues. Yep, I really might have to just buy it. *sigh*

  3. Scrap Girl: That's actually a difficult question! There are graphic novels in every possible genre, so it depends on what you're in the mood for. If you like memoirs and world lit, Persepolis is a safe bet. For a very original and moving WW2 story, try Maus by Art Spiegelman. For fantasy, Bone by Jeff Smith, Fables, or Sandman (Sandman being the darkest of the bunch...Preludes and Noctures is pretty much horror, but the following volumes aren't nearly as dark). For coming of age stories, there's Lost at Sea or The Tale of One Bad Rat. For non-fiction, you could try Alice in Sunderland. Hopefully you'll be able to find some of these at the library and give the medium a try. I hope you find a graphic novel that you love!

    Debi: I completely understand getting the characters mixed up at first! This edition had a who's who at the beginning with their pictures and a little bio, which was immensely helpful. Interestingly enough, people also often mention getting the characters mixed up in One Hundred Years of Solitude, which these books remind me a lot of :P About Luba, she grew on me too. Did you get to the bit where Chelo confronts her? I don't want to say much in case you didn't, but that's when I began to see her in a new light. And you know, I think Hernandez was going for that. It's really too bad you had to return it :(

  4. I refuse to add this to my wishlist, Nymeth. I should because this sounds absolutely fascinating, but I refuse.

    Scrap Girl: for what my two cents might be worth, try checking out website's graphic novels sections. That'll let you sort them (roughly) by genre and give you a better idea on what's out there. As Nymeth said, there are so many there's bound to be something to interest you! If you're into darker, dystopian stories/stories considered to be genre-classics you might want to check out Watchmen or V for Vendetta, by the by. They're both incredibly complex stories, though, so many not actually be good places to start reading graphic novels/comics with.

    In any case, I hope that helps some (in addition to Nymeth's answer. I know I'm sticking my nose in. Apologies.)

  5. Great characterization is my bread and butter, so onto the List this goes.

  6. Why is it I can't remember any of these titles when I'm at the store looking for graphic novels? I get really frustrated while at the store and having to go all over trying to find different books--even though the sales clerk assures me they should all be under the "graphic novel" section. I remember now your review of Heartbreak Soup and will definitely be checking out these two. I keep eying Black Hole, but I'm not sure I'm ready for the subject matter...

  7. I can't wait to read some of his stuff! I have GOT to read Heartbreak Soup...and then right on to this one!

  8. Ahem...that should have said, I've GOT to read some Hernandez!

  9. Shanra: Nothing to apologize for! Sticking one's nose in is not only allowed but positively encouraged in my comments :P Thanks for your recommendations. I still haven't read V, but Watchmen is awesome indeed.

    Memory: These are some seriously awesome characters. Not all of them are likeable, but it's what you were saying the other day about sympathy vs connection. In this case, I feel like I really get to know them, and that makes me want to read more about them independently of how much I like some of them as people.

    Trish: Black Hole is definitely weird :P I know you like world lit, so I think you'd like the Latin American flavour in these books. Also, if you see an edition named "Palomar", it has both this book and Heartbreak Soup in a single volume.

    Chris, I think you'd love his stuff! And you'll get a kick out of the Marquez references

  10. I have never heard of this book or author. Where have I been! Thanks for the review and I will be going to look it up.

  11. tender, intelligent, sad, humourous- i'm sold! :-)

  12. Ever since you reviewed the first book, I've had this one on my radar. Thanks for bringing the sequel to my attention!!

  13. Jaime: Sadly I don't think the Palomar stories get the attention they deserve. They are so worth discovering, though!

    Marie: What more can one ask for? :)

    Leslie, you're welcome! I hope you enjoy them both!

  14. I really like the sound of this series and both reviews have been great. My library is pretty rubbish when it comes to graphic novels, but I will see if they can order in copies which I haven't done before.

  15. Hey everyone, who is your favorite character in the Palomar stories?

    It's a hard decision, mine is probably Carmen, or perhaps Tonantzin.


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