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Hotel Africa: Volume 1    by Hee Jung Park order for
Hotel Africa
by Hee Jung Park
Order:  USA  Can
TOKYOPOP, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

I have come across some very well-written manga, but Hee Jung Park's Hotel Africa is the first one that I would consider to be a work of literature. Park's prose is very poetic and the stories told really touch the reader.

Elvis is a film student in LA, but while spending time with his friends, his thoughts tend to drift back to when he was little. Growing up with his widowed mother and his grandmother in the middle of Utah seems like it would be a boring existence for young Elvis. However, he was a very observant boy who could read others better than any of the adults could do. As guests came in and out of his mother's boarding house, he got to know and care about them, and they left lasting impressions that he still recalls years later.

His favorite guest, though, is Geo, a reclusive Native American who has taken up permanent residence in Hotel Africa, having fallen in love with Elvis' mom. In reflecting on all of these past guests, Elvis learns something about life that makes him more grounded than his film school friends.

Elvis' memories are each contained to a chapter, making stories and characters easily accessible to the reader. The characters that do play a part throughout Hotel Africa are all memorable and distinctive, especially the younger Elvis, with whom readers will instantly connect. Park's artwork helps carry through the feel of Elvis' memories with softer edges, no harsh backgrounds, and more muted blacks.

Hotel Africa is a wonderful character-driven story that just happens to be in graphic novel format. Hee Jung Park has written a true work of literature that older teens and adults can connect with and enjoy. As the volume is set up with each chapter able to stand on its own, there is no big cliffhanger to keep readers anticipating the next volume, but Park's writing itself will make them eager for more of Elvis' memories.

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