Saturday, September 26, 2009

Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story by Ari Folman and David Polonsky

In 1982, there was a two-day massacre of Palestinian civilians who were living in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. Lebanese Christian militiamen killed men, women and children, while Israeli defense forces controlled the entrances to the camps. Hundreds of refugees were marched out of the camps and afterwards unaccounted for and bodies were bulldozed under rubble in the camps as well, so the death toll is uncertain. The number of dead may be 700 (the official Israeli figure) or as many as 3,500 (the Palestinian estimate).

Ari Folman was an Israeli soldier stationed in Beirut at the time of the massacre. He was barely 19 years old. He had no memory at all of the events, however. It wasn't until 2006, when a friend talked to him of his nightmares that were related to the atrocities of that time, that Folman decided to retrieve his memories and face his own culpability.

Waltz with Bashir was originally an animated documentary. David Polonsky was the art director and chief illustrator for the film. Polonsky's realistic artwork in the book version uses sombre shades of full colour.

Folman explores the senselessness of war. I was reminded of Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers - the way Birdy cannot see any reason or larger purpose in the madness - when Folman's friend Carmi describes the pressure and fear and "shooting like maniacs" at anything they see. At one point, an Israeli officer is watching porno on television. He gives Folman his orders without looking at him, without taking his eyes off the screen: "Listen, we got a hot tip. A red Mercedes is going to explode on your men, so when the car comes, blow it up." Folman asks, "Every red Mercedes?" And the reply is, "Are you some kind of idiot or what?"

Folman is definitely not an idiot. He documents his search for the truth and his own humanity in this very powerful memoir.

Readalikes: Notes for a War Story by Gipi; The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert et. al.; Alan's War by Emmanuel Guibert; Shooting War by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman; Palestine by Joe Sacco; Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi; Deogratias by Jean-Philippe Stassen

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