Wednesday 16 November 2016

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden (Drawn and Quarterly)

From the outset it's worth pointing out we're firmly in "YA" territory here so if you've got little ones around, this one's not for them...
However, if you've got a surly teen who is in search of new reading matter and wants to read one of the most incredible graphic novels of the year, then stay put because Sarah Glidden's "How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less" is exactly that - an astonishing achievement that perfectly underlines how powerful great comics can be.

Sarah, a long-time and vocal opposer of Israeli political policy offers us an incredible travelogue-come-diary of her experiences on a Birthright Israel Tour.

Along with her best friend, she expects to experience the country first hand and find plenty of evidence to back up her firm belief that the political structure in Israel is biased, unfair and unjust but once 'in country' she begins to find that far from unraveling the tangled web surrounding the Israeli-Palestine conflict, there are far more questions than answers.

Drawn from her first-hand experiences of the country, its people and the political landscape, Glidden's visual diary purposely keeps the illustrations sparse and realistic to concentrate on the graphic novel's underlying text, highlighting that the conflict is so far from a resolution that it is at times distressing and depressing.

But Glidden's own conclusions are reasoned, thorough and eventually (with a struggle) accepting of the fact that Israel - and for that matter the world's problems - are not always as clear cut and simple to unravel as they seem. The toughest concept to get to grips with is the way that something that looks so broken from outside is accepted from within, and people's daily lives have evolved and become structured around some weird 'agreement' that this is in fact the norm and there's very little anyone can do about it.

I read this through a couple of times to really let the core message soak in, and once again it's one of those books that I'm just dying to share with Charlotte in a few years' time. There's strong language and themes in this that really make it pretty unsuitable for an 8 year old but as a parent it's definitely your decision on whether you'd let your child read this.

In all honesty, as Charlotte becomes more aware of and more engaged with World News I really wish I could let her loose on this. Glidden is a superb narrator for her own often exasperated observations of a ruptured society feeling like it's largely 'making do' with a situation that seems completely beyond comprehension to most of us in the west.

I cannot recommend this highly enough. Once again Drawn and Quarterly reinforce their catalogue with a stunning title that should, by rights, win a huge cabinet full of awards.

"How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less" by Sarah Glidden is published by Drawn and Quarterly, and is available now (Kindly sent for review).