The Garden of Inside-Outside

The Garden of Inside-Outside
Chiara Mezzalama and Régis Lejonc (trans. Sarah Ardizzone)
Book Island

Inspired by the author’s own childhood experience (in 1980 her father was appointed Italian ambassador to Tehran when Iran was at war with Iraq), this is an absolutely wonderful graphic novel style presentation with suberb illustrations by Régis Lejonc.

Chiara and her brother spent their days within a garden of an ambassadorial residence surrounded by high walls. Inside this garden with its fountains, pomegranate trees, a pond with an ancient carp, and a wealth of hiding places they were safe from the violent war that raged Outside.

One day while playing in their garden the children spy a young boy peering through the iron gate. He takes a risk and climbs over the wall. Chiara’s brother and their dog run away but despite having no language in common, Chiara and the boy whose name is Massoud, strike up a friendship.

Much alarmed, Chiara’s brother wants her to inform their parents but she keeps quiet and her new friend becomes ‘ the Persian prince of Outside-Inside’ while Chiara is a lion-taming princess; their garden his sanctuary.

But when Chiara tries to mix inside and outside the story suddenly turns and their friendship comes under a threat of her own making, her friendly gesture seemingly spurned; or is it?

Powerfully written and crafted with consummate skill, (this is a superb translation by Sarah Ardizzone), we readers really feel as though we’re standing behind Chiara’s head as she tells her enormously thought-provoking story. The illustrations truly do evoke the tranquilly of the inside sanctuary and the dark horrors and fears of the war as it rages in the city outside.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this before: what a wonderful demonstration that friendships truly can transcend boundaries and walls against all the odds.