Notes for a War Story by Gipi isn’t a work of nonfiction, but it was certainly inspired by real events—the author lives in northern Italy, right near the western border with Slovenia. If not for the fact that he lived in Italy, the fighting in the former Yugoslavia could have been his war, and his life. And the book is a reflection of that, the story of three teenagers lingering on the outskirts of war, never seeing it, but feeling its effects nonetheless.
Stefano/Little Killer, Christian, and Giuliano (the narrator) are three kids wandering through the countryside in an unnamed country, stealing stuff to sell and just looking to survive and maybe some day make it big. Giuliano is a bit of an outsider to the other two, because he was raised by two parents with good jobs, and really only left that life behind so he could fit in with his friends. He is filled with doubt about the things they do, but it is unclear to him—and even to us, the readers—if this is because these things are wrong, or because he “just doesn’t understand.”
We follow the trio as they become acquainted with a man named Felix, who pulls them into the business of organized crime and later into the war itself, in a reflection of the real-life connections between organized crime and factions in a civil war. The book doesn’t analyze or explain these connections—this is just the way it is, and when Giuliano actually has the intelligence and temerity to question that state of being, it separates him further from his friends.
The story itself can be a little hard to get into, but it quickly picks up and becomes a rather easy, though emotionally-detached read. The characters are designed with sketchy, awkward lines that succeed in illustrating the scene while generating feelings of unease. I appreciated how the protagonists looked like teenagers, even when their mood shifted from scared to sinister and points inbetween.
Notes for a War Story has had a share of accolades piled upon it, including the 2005 Goscinny Prize for Best Script and the honor of Best Book at Angoulême 2006. It’s a shame that we don’t see as much impact stateside, because this book has a lot to offer in terms of craft and subject.