Dislocation and The Recount of Trauma: Tressage of the Car in Abirached’s “A Game for Swallows: To die, to leave, to return” – by Lauren Allen


In Thierry Groensteen’s “Bande Dessine,” he illustrates the code of tressage or how meaning can be weaved through a graphic narrative non sequentially. Groensteen goes further to argue that “a narrative sequence can be overlaid by a ‘series’”. The image of the white car in Zeina Abirached’s A Game for Swallows: To die, to leave, to return confirms Groensteen’s theory of tressage, for the weaving of the image constructs a new layer of meaning in reference to the title of her book. For Abirached, this title encapsulates the “those departures, those returns, those  deaths, all those movements inside the country or towards the outside, which made migrant beings of us” (Abirached 82). One could go further to say that To die , to leave, to return also signifies the process of recounting and unpacking trauma. Groensteen would readily agree with Abirached that the tressage of the car and the wheels that propel it forward is a confirmation of the title in the face of migrant dislocation and recalling trauma.

On page 71, the reader is presented with the labyrinthine image of unmoving cars, with the focus on the single white car among a sea of black. 56237675901__6FE12BB0-3F7F-4C79-83A1-48DEDE1CC9F7The image of the car symbolizes dislocation, a sensation present in the transitory space that the car creates. It is neither home nor away, but a liminal space that is unsettled. The pattern of the static cars creates anxiety, which confirms the idea that the path to home is not always linear or easy, similar to the way in which Abirached processes trauma. The car pattern and the agency given to the single white car are quite literally and metaphorically acting as a 56237666299__F01FD15A-1888-40AC-A90F-49B35A547317.jpegvehicle for dislocation and uncertainty. 

The image of each car on the page is coupled with the recurring circle image as its tires- a motif that has been weaved throughout the text to bring geometric order to a narrative that is chaotic and uncertain. These circles are what should propel the car forward, but in this case, the circles visually complicate the panel even further. The circle image that occupies its own tressage confirms the cyclicality of the title To die, to leave, to return. In conjunction with the car as a representation of disjointedness, the circles/wheels are what propels the car forward. Even though the car is stopped in this panel, it can be assumed that the option of movement rests upon the cyclical structure of processing the trauma of war. The car and its wheels become the vessel for Abirached to visualize the process of recounting her trauma and her migration.

The panels on page 172 and 173 have a bearing on the symbolism of the title as depicted by the car tressage. As opposed to the countless unmoving cars on page 71, the single moving car is illustrated as a polyptych against the photo background of the title of the book. By juxtaposing the moving car against the background of the title, Abirached is employing exactly what the title infers: To die, to let the events occurring take place and end, to leave, to create distance from the events during the war, and to return, to process these events later on. 56237742151__5CCEF30E-F441-4C93-90B0-62A582D024DB.jpegThis succession of images juxtaposes that of page 71, for even though it confirms the idea of dislocation and trauma, there is less urgency and the movement seems more natural. The image of the car returns once more on the last page, and this is the first time the children are also inside. Their gaze is behind even though the car is being propelled forward- a metaphor for the trauma that the young Abirached in the car will have to process later on. The reader can assume that the car is moving here; however, the direction of movement is unclear- leaving or returning? This highlights the unknown and the car as a transitory space between home and away.

Ultimately, the stoicism of the cars on page 71 in unification with the other images of the car to create this tressage confirms the dislocation of Abirached and the process it took her to recall her memories and write this memoir. Her life has been one of upheaval and movement in the face of war. The car has made this possible, for her to let her memories die, to leave them, and to return again.

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