Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is an introspective travelogue in full colour graphic novel format by a Jewish American artist in her 20s on a free trip sponsored by Birthright Israel. Before leaving for Israel, Sarah Glidden told her boyfriend Jamil, whose family is from Pakistan: "I'm ready to go there and discover the truth behind this whole mess once and for all. It'll all be crystal clear by the time I come back!" Not. Definitely not.

Sarah identifies as politically left-wing and progressive, which usually includes being anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. She wonders if not supporting Israel makes her anti-Jewish (and therefore self-hating). Throughout her journey, Sarah's resistance to Zionist propaganda leaves her feeling out of step with the other young people on the trip, including her good friend, Melissa. Sarah hides her disdain when she finds her travel companions gushing and sharing their feelings of inspiration; Sarah's snarky comments are not appreciated. Even Melissa gets short with her sometimes.

Sarah Glidden's watercolour artwork is very accomplished, with almost photographic details, such as ancient walls marked with graffiti (KNOW HOPE) and bullet holes (Sarah illustrates herself exploring one with her finger). In a cafe scene, the roof beams, book-laden bookshelves, pasted notices and framed art on the walls, a glimpse of staff in the kitchen under hanging cook pots, as well as customers at a nearby table all add to the richness of the setting. The Birthright tour covers a lot of ground and-drawn maps help to orient readers before each chapter.

In the end, Sarah is still muddled about the situation in Israel. Her honesty is both a strength and a weakness, depending on the reader's viewpoint. I wonder if Sarah could have gained some perspective if she had allowed more time to lapse between her trip and the writing. In any case, don't expect to understand the complexities of Israel and Palestine by the end of this book.

Readalikes: for a subtly critical view of Israeli society from within, check out Exit Wounds, a novel by Israeli comic book artist Rutu Modan.


avisannschild said...

This sounds good! I do wish you'd post the covers of the books you review though! :)

Lindy said...

I've been sparing in posting the covers of books because it makes the pages slower to load. I usually do include the covers of graphic novels and picture books, so that people can see what the art is like. Since you asked, I'm going to add Sarah Glidden's book cover.