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Letters to a Prisoner

by Jacques Goldstyn; Angela Keenlyside (trans.)

One day, a girl and her father join a peaceful protest march; the demonstration turns ugly when protesters are met with a phalanx of heavily armed riot police. The girl’s father is arrested and thrown into prison. Alone in his empty cell, he despairs. When a bluebird flies through the cell window it triggers memories of happy times with his child, which he begins to sketch on the walls. Soon, the bluebird brings him a precious gift: a letter. Although the guards angrily snatch it away and destroy it, the bluebird brings more and more – until there is a heap of letters from different countries in different languages, all expressing solidarity.

As the guards throw more and more letters onto the fire, the smoke creates an SOS message that drifts around the world, prompting still more people to write to the prisoner. Eventually, the epistles coming into his window coalesce into wings that carry him away from the prison and home to his joyful little girl.

Political cartoonist Jacques Goldstyn tells this powerful story through a series of evocative watercolour sketches. (The only words in the book are found on a few of the letters.) The visual language is easily understood: the red dots on the protesters’ placards correspond to the red of the girl’s balloon. Inside the prison cell, expanses of white space suggest the boredom and emptiness of solitary confinement, against which the bright colours of the bluebird and the letters stand out. Reality slides into fantasy with the man’s miraculous rise on wings made of letters, but his escape expresses the confidence that the caring intervention of people around the world can make a difference.

Inspired by Amnesty International’s letter-writing campaigns, and dedicated to Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who has been imprisoned for five years, this book is an inspiration for all ages.