Little Josephine: Memory in Pieces by Valérie Villieu, illustrated by Raphaël Sarfati, translated by Nanette McGuinness [in Booklist]
For Parisian nurse Valérie Villieu, the proverbial City of Lights is “filled with solitude, isolation, and confinement” – especially for the elderly. Villieu meets soon-to-be-84 Josephine, trapped in her tiny apartment with a stuffed dog and bear as her only constant companions. For months, Josephine rejects any attempts to ease her daily life. And then, “I no longer know how things changed,” Villieu admits, but Josephine begins to engage, to accept gentle care. She shares memories, sings, dances, talks politics, dresses up, charms … until her disorientation and decline become inevitable.
Despite the somber theme, illustrator Raphaël Sarfati transforms what might have been a grim tragedy (incompetent health care, overtaxed system, dehumanization) into an irresistible homage to a beguiling, “amazingly alive” woman eventually lost to dementia. Armed with a whimsical palette of mostly teal, purple, pink, yellow highlights, Sarfati’s incisive panels become a faithful mirror for Josephine’s experiences, moods, and reactions, as his borders overlap, rearrange, disappear, and sometimes can’t even be held on the page. An affecting amalgamation of story and art, capably translated by prolific Nanette McGuinness, Little Josephine proves unforgettable.
Published: 2012 (France), 2020 (United States)