“A mighty achievement”- How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden
Let’s tread carefully, shall we? A short while ago we reviewed Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years (positively) and Etgar (very nicely) reposted it on his Facebook page and… Well, let’s say we came in for a little bit of stick in the comments section (I was pompous, I was anti-Semitic, I was patronizing, I was offensive etc). Etgar defended us, particularly, I think, because we expressed the change we underwent reading his book – and it’s important to emphasise that here before we start: we have opinions, based upon what we know, and we can be willing to learn more and then change those opinions. We try to be open to information and willing to change. That is one of our fundamentals. If you think you are right and that we are wrong about what follows, that is ok; it may be that you are right, and that we are wrong, but I would at least be able to say that I’d listen and give you a fair hearing and I have been known to change my mind about things, so. At least there’s that, right?
Sarah Glidden’s book, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days, starts from a position not a million miles from our own – in that she is critical of certain political decisions taken by Israel historically and has sympathy for Palestinians. She describes herself as left-wing, as I do. The difference between Glidden and myself is that Glidden is Jewish and I am not but politically we seem to be in a similar sort of place. Her book charts a visit she took as part of Birthright, which is an organisation that offers free trips to Israel for Jewish people from all over the world, a trip she took in the company of her friend Melissa, who had never been abroad before, never mind experienced a Jewish environment having not been raised in a particularly observant household. The trip takes them via Golan Heights, Lake Kinneret, Tel Aviv, the desert and Jerusalem before, post-Birthright, attempting an excursion into the West Bank. Along the way, Glidden regularly interrogates her opinions and asks herself how right she is to think what she thinks (she is, at least in my view, tremendously reasonable). She listens and whenever anything pricks her conscience – if for example she feels she is being fed a version of events rather than simply facts (as happens with the Masada story in which Glidden places the version she is told alongside the historical documents themselves) – she articulates her own position (and expresses confusion and ambiguity – she is subject to change and often interrogates the change in herself, to parse whether it is genuine or whether she is being brainwashed or experiencing the Birthright glow, as her cousin calls it). The broad arc of the book (which we think we can share because it isn’t really a spoiler and is actually quite pertinent) seems to us to be that Glidden comes out the other side of the trip feeling like you can know the things you know, and think the things you think, but at the same time the experience of being in a place is something that you can only understand by being in that place.
Glidden lacks the colder eye of a Sacco but her book is a sturdier experience than, say, Delisle’s graphic travelogues, in that she has skin in the game, as it were, and How to Understand… is more than a travelogue. Her art and her colouring recall the work of Rutu Modan. All of which hopefully demonstrates the quality of this book. These are big graphic artists we are talking about here and Glidden is rubbing shoulder to shoulder with them. She is important and interesting and doing some great work. We are waiting on her next, soon to be published, book, Rolling Blackouts, with real eagerness. I also think it would be possible to read this book, irrespective of your own political opinion and learn something new too (even if that something new was only here is what a younger person thinks of Israel). Another enduring take-away is that not only is Israel beautiful but here is an artist who has manages to create something beautiful from something painful and fractured and messy and complicated. Which is a mighty achievement.
Any Cop?: Sarah Glidden is new to us (in that we hadn’t heard of her before this book) but she has risen to the top of graphic novelists whose work we want to see a lot more of in the future.
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- September 7, 2016 / 9:00 am