Image of Anna
Release Date: 
March 26, 2024
Reviewed by: 

“Oberländer’s underlying message of female bodies striving to conform to spaces too narrow to contain them is powerful . . .”

Anna, the debut graphic novel by Mia Oberländer, is a short, quirky book about tall people. In the little town of Bad Hohenheim, a woman named Anna marries a tall man and gives birth to an unusually tall daughter, Anna 2. Anna 2 is “grotesquely” tall and, despite her mother’s best efforts, struggles to fit in. When you can’t find your place in a small town, what else is there to do but leave? As Oberländer’s sparse narrative says “After finishing school, Anna left the cozy home to find herself a short man and a big city. But the city was too big for the short man, and the man was too short for Anna 2 . . . And so she soon returned to the village, albeit accompanied by Anna 3.” No surprise: the baby Anna 3 also grows ridiculously tall.

The story jumps around chronologically, from Anna 1’s girlhood in 1939 (and the horrific loss of her dog Lollo) to Anna 2’s adolescence in the 1970s, to Anna 3’s girlhood. There is a lot brewing under the surface of the thin plot, primarily the feminine struggle for physical conformity and being comfortable in one’s own skin. When Anna 1 tries to educate the adolescent Anna 2 on what she can expect from life as a tall woman, she has daughter watch a television program that gives voice to every ridiculous “truth” you can think of:

“A tall woman’s love life can be frustrating! On one hand, men don’t see us as players in the dating game. But that isn’t even the most demoralizing thing, because the few tall men who would theoretically be left for us are coveted by short women too. And, well, tall men want short women and short women want tall men. Tall women simply don’t provoke a protective instinct.

“But don’t give up hope, because in fact there are a few men out there who don’t care if their partner is taller or even desire it. In the latter case, you should pay close attention because these men are often not right in the head.”

The text’s fairy tale-like quality gives it an offbeat charm but ultimately adds a level of narrative distance that can’t be bridged even by Oberländer’s illustrations, which are by far the greatest delight of the book. Each generation’s Anna is taller and more gangly and awkward than the one before. The bodies are all long legs and arms with disproportionately short torsos. Anna 2 and Anna 3, especially, are visibly uncomfortable in their bodies as they try to make themselves fit into spaces designed for small bodies. Oberländer’s underlying message of female bodies striving to conform to spaces too narrow to contain them is powerful, but the reading experience doesn’t quite meet the expectations set by its premise.