As the title suggests, this is a somewhat autobiographical and very romantic memory of the author during one Summer in 1970s Belgium. We have a family without much means but a lot of heart who give us a wonderful reminder that the best Summer vacations aren’t the ones that you spend thousands on – it’s the ones where you are with your family and enjoying life.
Story: Pierre is a frustrated comic artist with more ideas than successes in his career. His long suffering wife is at the end of her rope trying to justify the lost years hoping her husband will have a series that makes it big. They have three kids and are ready to do their yearly Summer drive South to their favorite camping areas. But this year is different – unbeknownst to the kids, Pierre’s wife is considering divorce and the vacation has become a bittersweet event for the parents.
Zidrou adeptly captures the feel of 1970s France/Belgium through his everyday family. Precocious toddler, fighting middle kids, and a quiet boy who has an imaginary friend: a giant squirrel. The love there is obvious, even if strained at this point in time. The book covers their Grimwold’s family trek, though without Chevy Chase emoting. From passing the french fries stand to convincing a Dutch family to leave ‘their’ camping spot.
The lighthearted adventures are offset by the growing realization that the parents’ relationship is failing. And that the father, despite spending all day and night at the drawing board, is about to have another failed comic series. But of course, the kids are oblivious and to them, this is the grandest Summer just being with the parents and away from school.
The illustration work is superb and easy to follow. Each of the characters definitely looks 1970s European in wonderful ways – from the mutton chops to the wide legged pants and old Renault. I really liked that it was set in that era – it was a different time before cell phones and computer games.
Southbound! is the type of story you didn’t want to end. Even experiencing the pathos and sadness leading up to the third part of the story, it is an engaging and wonderful read. As well, it didn’t end the way I thought it would – a surprise and perhaps the most European aspect of the entire story. In all, very recommended, especially for those who grew up in the 1970s and remember those halcyon days before technology stole away kids’ energies. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.