Perihan: A Troubling Take on Physical Impairments

Perihan: A Troubling Take on Physical Impairments

Perihan is born without a mouth—it isn’t until she is eight that she can be operated on, at which point, she’s all set for a ‘normal’ life. But then her mouth closes up again and the only way to keep her face intact is by lying. It isn’t easy or comfortable, but Perihan will do

Perihan is born without a mouth—it isn’t until she is eight that she can be operated on, at which point, she’s all set for a ‘normal’ life. But then her mouth closes up again and the only way to keep her face intact is by lying. It isn’t easy or comfortable, but Perihan will do anything to never lose her mouth or voice again.

Perihan: The Girl Without a Mouth

Veli Okulan (Letters), Cem Ozuduru (Writer and Artist), Cem Ulgen (Translation)
Europe Comics
January 22, 2020

Perihan: The Girl Without a Mouth Cover. Cem Ozuduru. Europe Comics. January 22, 2020

 

I’m still trying to process my feelings about Perihan. I was intrigued by the central conceit which seemed to be about navigating the world with a disability. But that’s not how the story progresses. Instead, the book moves into body horror, and fantasy (or the supernatural, it’s never made clear). And though I don’t mind supernatural elements—or at least, unexplained phenomena—appearing in non-genre books, I felt like Perihan needed some explanation as to how the protagonist was able to keep her mouth (and even further beautify herself) through the power of her words.

Perihan’s ability to channel her rage into lies to make herself physically appealing is randomly introduced—there’s no preamble for this. But I think what ended up bothering me more about this aspect of the story was that it was incongruously used throughout the plot. At times, her lies were real, and told for a good cause. But for the most part, Perihan is lying into a mirror, and making up outrageous lies, and somehow it has the same effect on her face as real lies. My willing suspension of disbelief was not easily suspended with Perihan—the logic of the world failed to work for me, and it ruined my already troubled reading experience. I don’t know how much of it had to do with the translation, and how much of it existed in the source material, but it did not work. (The translation did leave much to be desired—there were missing words and some odd phrasing, which I’ve not encountered in other Europe Comics properties.)

My primary issue with this book was how it discussed Perihan having a ‘normal’ life—the ableism and general othering of people with impairments or disfigurements throughout this book was very frustrating. Especially considering that the book was originally written in 2018, the outdated sensibilities here are unacceptable.

I did like some moments in the story: Perihan enjoying being able to eat for the first time, feeling all the sensations of food and drink after years of getting nutrition via IV drip. Having said that, the descriptions in Perihan could have been better written—and there were far too many moments when the text was describing events and emotions already depicted by the art. I’m surprised to encounter such a lack of synergy between text and art in a modern graphic novel, especially when the writer and artist were the same person! It makes me wonder whether Cem Ozuduru didn’t trust his own abilities to tell the story completely through his words and art.

Because the art in this book is beautiful. I loved the details in the background, and particularly in the character’s faces. However, even in this aspect of the book, Ozuduru falters. Perihan and her friend Zehra look so alike that I couldn’t tell them apart.

Perihan: The Girl Without a Mouth Page 19. Cem Ozuduru. Europe Comics. January 22, 2020

To cap it all off, the ending of the book only reinforces Perihan’s central conceit of impairment-as-body horror. Which makes me think that there might be a sequel that explains Perihan being born without a mouth as some kind of supernatural event—and that she isn’t the only one.

I’m left wondering what the purpose of Perihan is. It isn’t a well-told story; seemingly important sections are rushed through, while others are painstakingly pondered over. Perihan seems to have little personality, as her childhood experience of being shunned and othered isn’t engaged with further than the opening chapters. This book is more invested in the body horror and brutality of physical impairments than it is the people who have them.

I was hoping to read a story that would be resonant or, at the very least, understanding of the impaired experience. What I got was a feeble attempt at shock and horror at the expense of the very people the book was meant to represent. It’s 2020—we really shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of misrepresentation and othering in graphic novels anymore.

Louis Skye
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