Author: Edith Fassnidge
Publish Date: June 2016
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1783521364
Guest Review by Adela Wu
How can one make sense of global and personal tragedy? With simple, stark hand-drawn lines in the graphic memoir Rinse Spin Repeat, Edith Fassnidge paints a vivid landscape of her experience—and trauma—during the deadly tsunami that claimed over 200,000 lives in Southeast Asia on Boxing Day in 2004. The book’s title itself refers to the metaphor Fassnidge assigns to her emotional trauma: a cycle that drowns her in a giant, vicious wave.
Everything seems idyllic at the start of Edith’s journey. She and her boyfriend Matt plan a trip of a lifetime in Thailand and, eventually, New Zealand. Edith’s mom and sister Alice will join them for the holidays. In a short series of panels, Edith engages her and the reader’s five senses with brief snapshots of street food, happy hours, cityscapes, and tropical motifs. The reader knows, though, that the wave and the ensuing disaster are imminent, just on the horizon.
Though Fassnidge does not offer much detail about her mom and sister’s personalities, the reader is gripped by the quick pace of the story, much like the relentless undercurrent of the tsunami waves that smash boats and drag Edith under the ocean over and over. In a particularly memorable scene, she discovers her mother’s drowned body in the ocean before another tsunami wave—the razor-sharp, shark fin-like demon—crashes into her.
As much as the graphic novel is advertised as a reflection of personal tragedy, it is also a tale of strength, survival, and resilience. The passage of time is marked by whole pages dedicated to depictions of tear-off calendar sheets. It is remarkable to see how much action and emotion Fassnidge can pack into a few panels. The numbness that envelops Edith as she struggles to process her psychic pain after miraculously reaching a hospital is akin to the anesthesia she must take for her numerous physical injuries, which include an infected gash with exposed bone in her leg. A pervasive, gut-wrenching aspect of the tsunami aftermath, though, is the uncertainty concerning her sister’s fate. Fassnidge has several effective storytelling styles, including her use of repeated panels. An example is of a ball, inching through each panel until it finally shatters the protective, emotionless shell surrounding herself. Thus, with time, Edith allows herself to weep at her new reality, simply denoted as dotted lines streaming from her eyes.
Indeed, time is an omnipresent thread throughout Fassnidge’s book. When Edith finally arrives home in Britain, she needs to reacclimate to life and the residual emotional turbulence of trauma—nightmares, intrusive thoughts, guilt, the pain of selling her family house. With time, though, life picks up a new cadence. As one panel depicts Edith and her partner Matt walking into the distance—their shared future—the day after the anniversary of the tsunami, the reader is then transported to a decade after the tsunami in the last few pages of the memoir as 2014 turns into 2015. Edith acknowledges that the trauma is still part of her, though ongoing family support and therapy has helped her cope tremendously in the interim.
Rinse, Spin, Repeat is a quick read that packs a powerful punch. In just a few pages and with the simplicity of line drawings and short sentences, the reader is right there with Edith on her journey through Thailand and through heartbreak. It is also an incredible depiction of one person’s reaction to trauma. This graphic memoir is for anyone looking for a gripping story, a personal narrative, and a reminder of the resilience within the human spirit.
If you’re looking for additional reading about the devastating December 26, 2004 tsunami, Sonali Deraniyagala has written a memoir, Wave (Vintage Books, 2013), of her experience with the aftermath of the disaster, which claimed the lives of her parents, husband, and children.
Adela Wu, MD is a neurosurgery resident physician at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, CA broadly interested in the intersections among her clinical practice and the medical humanities.