One of the best comic books/graphic novels I read in 2010 (late 2010) was Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less.
The book tells the story of Glidden’s visit to Israel, her homeland, on a Birthright tour (a free tour for young Jews to discover their roots). In some ways, the book is a bit like Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang; then, any book about a place that is at once both humorous and sharp would be.
But Glidden’s book is more.
Traveller: Glidden goes to Israel.
As Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Joe Sacco’s Palestine (and several other books) have shown, a comic book is a great way to address and depict serious issues. It is as if the simplicity of the medium and the sheer incongruence of having serious issues depicted in a medium associated with men in tights and the funnies somehow increases the poignancy of the story being told.
Glidden’s book combines both influences into a tale of Israel and Palestine told through beautifully constructed watercolours. And it’s a very personal story. As a Jew who grew up in the US, Glidden’s perception of both Israelis and Arabs is stereotypical. As is her understanding of the conflict. Her initial feelings about the Birthright tour (that it would be heavy on the propaganda) lend the story a neo-modern touch—the comic is a reflection of her changed understanding of the conflict, but also about how she comes to this understanding, through a tour about which itself she undergoes a similar change of heart. Interestingly, Glidden has told interviewers that she went through the Birthright tour hoping that it would provide her with material for a comic.
All of this works for How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, but what works most in favour of the book is the personal and intimate story that plays out on its pages. Few writers, in any medium, are as honest about their feelings as Glidden is in her autobiographical tale. And this honesty and intimacy makes the reader feel as if he (or she) knows Glidden really well. That, in the final reckoning, makes this a book about the Palestine-Israel conflict that people will remember (which is something because enough books have been written on the subject). It is also this factor that probably keeps the reader’s interest alive through 200 pages of the comic.
I am keenly looking forward to Glidden’s next book. She has hinted in an interview that this could possibly be on Syria and Iraq, and based on a reporting trip she was to take in these countries. Bring it on.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.
Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org