Border Crossings by Emma Fick

I don’t read only the types of books that I write. I read most fiction genre, some nonfiction, and so much more. If an industry newsletter or something involved in writing, illustrating, publishing, or libraries recommends a book and it looks interesting, I head to my library’s online catalogue to see if I can request it.

That’s how I ended up with Border Crossings: A Journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. I researched the railway for a project that isn’t out yet so I didn’t hesitate before requesting this book. It has been so interesting to learn more.

Maybe you read a lot of travelogues. I do not. So I’m not sure which would be more accurate. Is this a graphic travelogue or a graphic memoir? Fick has written about the journey she and her husband, then boyfriend, took on the railway from Beijing to Moscow. There are three different lines on the railway, and they chose this one because it passes through three countries – China, Mongolia, and Russia.

They got off the train in several key locations and even stayed with nomads in Mongolia. I think that was my favorite part of the whole book – reading about living in a ger on the steppe. That said, I also enjoyed getting a new perspective on both Genghis Khan and Lenin. That isn’t how Fick spells Genghis Khan, she uses the transliteration of the Mongolian, but I’m going with what you all are more likely to recognize. These men are heroes to their own people and still celebrated in their home nations.

What makes this travelogue most unique, and why I requested it, is that it is in graphic novel format. Most spreads include at least some illustration and the text is all hand lettered. I especially love her watercolors of the various buildings that captured her attention. If you’ve never seen a Russian train station, you’ll be in for a surprise. Imagine a vast building painted turquoise or yellow. If you are curious about other cultures, this is a book you are likely to enjoy.

If you are a writer, this one is also a lesson in creating something that only you can do. Fick made the journey. The observations are her own. And no one but Fick could have created these illustrations.

Think about it. What can you do to make your current project uniquely your own?