Far from the expected action-packed adventures of most graphic novels, The Salty River is a heart-warming and deeply personal love story that is full of emotion and beauty. The intimacy of the story is almost an invasion of privacy as we follow author Jan Bauer through the Australian Outback as he comes to terms with a difficult breakup.
Translated by Judith Pattinson, and effectively illustrated in black and white by the author, The Salty River claims to be the first German graphic novel published in Australia, and it’s stunning.
Capturing the grandeur and isolation of the Outback, Bauer also finds the soul of the outback community, whether it be in fellow hikers, locals, or the landscape itself. His simple drawings add enormously to the simplicity of the life he has chosen during his 450km walk, and it keeps the action focused on his inner journey and thoughts.
When he meets a fellow hiker, Morgane, romance blossoms despite their age difference, but it’s a gentle, loving friendship that forms and grows during their time together. Bauer expresses moments of happiness and reflection through silent panels and it’s enough because, often, those special moments need no words.
The Salty River acts as a travelogue of the Outback too, with Bauer showing an intimate understanding of the hiking trail with its campsites, supply stops and watering holes. He has a loving brush for his surroundings and doesn’t mind sparing a page or two to simply appreciate the views. This is his memoir of a difficult time and he opens his heart to the reader. You can feel the emotion on every page and it’s as uplifting and as personal as it gets. I found myself thanking him instinctively for sharing so much at the end.
By far, one of the best books I’ve read this year, I would never have expected it to come in the form of a graphic novel. We live and learn, as did he.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 10
Publisher: Twelve Panels Press
Release Date: September 2015