by Hee Jung Park
Deep in the Utah desert, a young woman living with her mother and her mixed-race son opens a hotel. Visitors drift in and out, with the exception of a young Native American man named Geo, who has fallen in love with the hotel's owner and proposes marriage on a daily basis. Her son Elvis is charmed by the stranger living under their roof, and Geo adopts a fatherly role. As guests check in to the hotel, luggage isn't the only baggage they bring with them. They confront problems or hidden secrets in their lives, rarely leaving the hotel without reaching an epiphany in the desert. Years later, Elvis remembers the dreamlike days at the Hotel Africa as he struggles to make it as an artist in the big city.
Many chapters of this graphic novel are framed by the struggles of adult Elvis and his city friends, but each chapter eventually reverts back to the past (probably the early 80s?) and the time he spent running around his mother's hotel. Each vignette is brief, with Elvis usually hanging in the background. The individual stories have a ethereal beauty to them. The hotel guests aren't greatly developed, but each one brings a tale that evokes memory and emotion and draws the reader in. By contrast, the scenes of Elvis as an adult feel like episodic, unfinished interruptions to the story of the hotel.
I'm a bit torn on the character of Geo. He's a beautiful, mysterious young Native American who seems to do little but hang out at the Hotel Africa. While he is an intriguing character, he's also a bit of a stereotype. He fulfills the role of the Indian shaman, the mystic who has dream visions and preaches a message of love and tolerance and oneness with the earth. It's not subtle at all.
The artwork is beautiful and well-suited to the story. Many characters are supermodel beautiful, and pose gracefully on the pages like they've fallen out of a Vogue fashion photo shoot. Large swathes of white space evoke the sparseness of the desert, but there's always enough detail to ground the story in a realistic setting.
3.5 out of 5 stars
To read more about Hotel Africa Vol. 1, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.
Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th
2011: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
2010: Where Am I Wearing? by Kelsey Timmerman
2009: Discussion Question: Ruining Your Books