“Every story has an antagonist. A villain. Suddenly, in this story, the villain…was me.”
Ballad for Sophie
Review by Chris Ceary
Content warnings/Trigger warnings: Physical and emotional abuse, suicide attempt, self-harm, houselessness, Nazi content, violence, severe drug use, major character death
When Adeline travels to a countryside mansion to interview a reclusive former musical genius, she finds far from a familiar story. How did the Maestro go from aspiring young pianist during the Nazi occupation of France to an Elton John-esque pop star to the old man she meets missing two of his fingers? No one has been able to get the story, but Adeline is determined to be the one to find out. The Ballad for Sophie takes readers on the journey to find these answers and goes in unexpected directions on the way.
It is difficult to convey the power this story holds. The narrative of the troubled genius who loses their will to play is a familiar one. However, The Ballad of Sophie has far more going on beneath the surface than it appears from the first few pages. The graphic novel quickly begins spinning in multiple unexpected directions. The story weaves threads of mental health problems and trauma through a narrative about music and surviving Nazi occupation. At its core, The Ballad for Sophie is about obsession. It is about the way we can project our pain onto others when something is missing in our lives. It is about how we can see other people’s success as the source of our problems when our reality is too painful to face.
The Ballad for Sophie goes to dark places, but it is far from a bleak story. It embraces the traumatic and the light, the painful and the humorous. It is this combination that makes the graphic novel feel like life. It also weaves in lovely moments of found family as the Maestro recounts the people that helped him get to where he was and the people who he has now.
Little more can be said about the specifics. The Ballad for Sophie is a journey. The places it takes the reader emotionally is why the narrative works. To go there means allowing yourself to dive into the story. I could rhapsodize about the narrative choices and the incredible character development, but it is a story that begs to be felt, and the less you know before starting, the better
For a story that goes as many dark places as this one does, the art is colorful and charming. It has a distinctively French aesthetic that grounds the plot in a sense of place. The art wraps the story in moments of magic realism and nostalgia, while never letting the reader forget that this story could have been real. It is lovely and captivating from moment one.
GET IT NOW. I cannot say enough about this wonderful story. The Ballad of Sophie has lasted with me in the days since I first picked it up and I can already feel the way it will stay in my psyche for long to come. I recommend grabbing it and settling in, then letting the story affect you as it was meant to do. Do not miss this powerful tale.