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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘The Many Deaths of Laila Starr’ is a beautiful human tale

What does death mean to us? What does it mean to live if only to simply die at the end? These are the questions asked in “The Many Deaths of Laila Starr,” a 2021 graphic novel originally released as a limited series written by Ram V and illustrated by Filipe Andrade. With the recent release of the hardcover edition of “The Many Deaths of Laila Starr,” I thought I would revisit the graphic novel—nominated for three Eisner awards in 2022—which was one of my favorite reads in recent memory.

 

“The Many Deaths of Laila Starr” follows our main character, the Hindu-inspired goddess of death, as she is fired from her position following the news that a baby one day destined to invent human immortality will imminently be born. With her position now irrelevant, she is exiled to the world of mortals, to live inside the body of Laila Starr, a woman who has recently died falling off the balcony at a Mumbai apartment party—dying at the exact moment the baby is born. Naturally, she tries to kill the baby who put her out of a job. Caught by security, she runs out of the hospital … only to get hit by a bus and die. Again. Because it helps to be best friends (lovers?) with the god of life, she is returned to humanity, though much later, and the baby has grown a little bit since then. As the title may suggest, this death and rebirth is a repeating cycle and the framing through which the novel divides its chapters. (No more spoilers, though!)

 

Writer Ram V gives an incredibly human and sensitive touch to his story and its characters, always showing us lesson after lesson, moral after moral as we view the life of the man who is closer to death than anyone through the eyes of the woman who was once Death. V draws from his Indian cultural background and Hindu and Buddhist philosophy to provide a beautiful take on what it means to live, and what it means to die. We sit with characters and their lives and philosophies—and everyone and everything has something to say in “Laila Starr,” even a lowly half-smoked cigarette at a party….

 

However, let’s not forget that this is a graphic novel, and that a good 50% of what makes it work is, well, the “graphic” part. And let me reassure you by telling you that Andrade’s art in this book is absolutely breathtaking. The hazy landscapes provide a dreamlike atmosphere to every scene that absolutely tugs at the senses. I know I was just looking at a book, but when reading some of those panels I swear to Death that I could hear those cars zooming by and smell that verdant garden behind the mansion. Andrade also has an amazing grasp on movement that makes you feel the slowness of a deep conversation or the quick action of a chase scene or a fight between friends. The best parts, though, are when you can feel the images in front of you turn into slow motion before your very eyes.

 

One of the best aspects of “Laila Starr,” in my opinion, is the small details that really make everything feel unique. The realm of the gods being a soulless corporate office, the incorporation of history, both real and speculative, and other small things like graffiti that reads “DICKS ON WALLS ARE THE PUREST FORM OF ART.”

 

Anyway, I’ve raved enough about this book and have said everything I could before I ruin the experience for you. Coming in at only 128 pages, it’s a quick read that you can get through in one sitting (though I have to warn you, you’ll be constantly fighting the urge to re-read it afterward). So, please, do yourself a favor and sit down with “The Many Deaths of Laila Starr.”

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