REVIEW: ‘Ballad for Sophie’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Ballad For Sophie

Ballad for Sophie (Balada para Sophie) is a graphic novel written by Filipe Melo with art by Juan Cavia, background by Juan Cruz Rodriguez, and lettering and translation by Gabriela Soares published by IDW Publishing imprint Top Shelf Productions. Intrepid reporter Adeline Jourd is determined to interview renowned pianist Julien Dubois who has become a recluse in his waning years.

I had no concept of Ballad for Sophie’s plot before beginning, and I feel grateful that was the case experiencing the story Julien tells Adeline, and thus the reader over the course of the graphic novel. I felt like I was sitting in her shoes, digesting the tale as it went and reconciling it with the expectations his experience, demeanor, and opening exposition initially render. You’re a curious journalist, too, just soaking in the story and wondering where it may lead next.

And really, it’s a great story. Julian shares his life from a young age with a cruel mother obsessed with his becoming the greatest piano player the world over and the fateful encounter with Fran Ois Samson, the actual greatest pianist to ever live. It’s a story of anger, envy, self-loathing, and regret told in a simple and lovely graphic style. The tales from the past are washed in sepia tones with only splashes of color to emphasize certain elements or characters, and this man’s life is so storied that you really never know where it may go next.

And it sure goes places, from the wrong side of the Nazi invasion of France to the doldrums of depression, drugs, and love not meant to be. What begins as a straightforward regaling of a mistreated kid’s arc into a grumpy older man slowly and thoughtfully evolves into an intimate set of listening sessions with an intricate character you will fall in love with totally.

If you listen (or look) carefully at the story, you might discern its postscript before it arrives. But wow, you absolutely must stay in your seat for this encore. It’s an emotional powerhouse befitting the very style of play Julien sought his whole life. Its final moments will have you off your feet, all meanings entirely entended (you’ll get it when you read it). I was already thoroughly enjoying the book all the way through, but the end firmly landed Ballad for Sophie in my shortlist of favorites this year.

In addition to the excellent art throughout the book, there is a three-page sequence of terrifying and twisted images with extra coloring support by Sandro Pacucci and Santiago R. Villa in addition to Cavia. It’s a total departure from the regular art but perfectly befitting the moment and totally stunning. The translation is also spot-on and never feels like a reproduction; I could be totally convinced this was originally produced in English if I didn’t already know it wasn’t. But the absolute cherry on top of this wonderful graphic novel is the original piano composition written by Melo himself. It’s fully printed in the end of the book and available to listen to online. It’s an absolute match for the story as a whole and especially its conclusion. I would encourage readers to put it on as they read the final chapter of the book to multiply the already tear-rending quality of the book’s final moments. It’s breathtaking, and I do not use that language lightly. For real, I can’t even write this review without welling up over the story all over again.

Ballad for Sophie is an incredible journey from start to finish as you watch a man recount his life, on his own terms, for the first time.

Ballad for Sophie is available now wherever books are sold, including our Bookshop.org affiliate link.


Ballad for Sophie
5

TL;DR

Ballad for Sophie is an incredible journey from start to finish as you watch a man recount his life, on his own terms, for the first time.