Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

by Sarah Glidden

I wasn't sure what to expect going into this graphic memoir, but I do know that my expectations were exceeded by almost every page.  In 2007, New Yorker Sarah Glidden took a Birthright Tour of Israel - a free tour provided to Jews living in the diaspora.  This book is her accounting of what she saw on that trip, and how it affected her opinions of the country and her political beliefs.

Glidden's thinking going into the country is that the Israeli state is racist, and designed to disrupt the livelihoods and human rights of its Palestinian and Bedouin populations.  While those thoughts never went away, Glidden came out of the experience with a better understanding of the infinite complexity of the issues, and that Israelis' opinions are not as hegemonic as she expected.

What makes this book work so well is the way in which Glidden shows her own internal conflict throughout the trip.  At one point, she's mocking the blatant propaganda of Independence Hall, but the next, she's weeping openly because of the emotions that it dredged up in her.  This is a very honest piece of work, as it strips Glidden bare to the reader's gaze on more than one occasion.  It is also easily the most political book that Vertigo has ever published (yes, even more political than Prez).

Glidden's art reminds me of that of Rutu Modan, whose Exit Wounds is also set in Israel (and is also very very good).  Her watercoloured cartoons fit this material nicely, and I enjoyed the technique she used a few times of bringing ghosts of people being discussed into the panel.

In all, this is one of the most educational and thought-provoking graphic novels I've ever read.  Like Glidden, the experience of reading this book hasn't changed my sympathies from being with the more oppressed Palestinians, but it has helped me come to an appreciation of the complexity of the situation.

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