Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review by JD: Palestine by Joe Sacco ~ a graphic novel



This is a dark, thought-provoking and deeply disturbing graphic “novel” detailing the time that he spent in the Palestinian Territories – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

About:   Sacco has become well known for his journalism in the comic book medium. He has based this book on several months of research and two months that he spent in the Palestinian Territories in late 1991 and early 1992 – during the time of the First Intifada (or uprising). He conducted over a 100 face-to-face interviews, and lived among the Palestinians in their towns and refugee camps. He specifically set out to focus primarily on the experiences and views of the Palestinians, feeling that in the West the Jewish side of the story was already well known.

The book follows him as he moves from town to town, house to house, interview to interview. He lives with and befriends some of the locals as they show him around, introduce him to people and make him welcome. And they make tea for him; lots and lots of tea. The book recounts their stories and histories, and the grim reality of their day-to-day existence. Meanwhile the graphics capture the people and the abysmal conditions quite brilliantly.

John’s Thoughts:  This is not an easy read. Sacco leaves you in no doubt that he feels strongly that Palestinians have been treated appallingly – ejected from their home lands, deprived, brutalized and dehumanized (and a word of caution – he pulls no punches in depicting those horrors graphically). But he does provide some balance and he is also clear that there is no simple solution. While the Israelis and the Palestinians remain locked in a seemingly never-ending struggle, there are also deeply divided factions within each side. And the intervention of other countries is usually unhelpful and driven by their own local politics, with all commentators in the book deriding the supposed “Peace Process”.

This whole situation is both horrible and horribly complex. I’ve been fortunate to visit Israel a handful of times so do have some first-hand experience, though for sure that doesn’t make me any more knowledgeable or enlightened than most other observers. Sacco does sum up the experience (and human nature) rather well towards the end of the book:

“That’s the thing about coming to the Holy Land or Palestine or Israel or whatever you want to call it … no one who knows what he’s coming here looking for leaves without having found it…”

I also liked one of his final questions on the nature of power and humanity, made after he observes a soldier mistreating a boy:

“… what can happen to someone who thinks he has all of the power – and what becomes of someone when he believes himself to have none?”

While the book does include some humor (most of it directed at Sacco himself), this is a difficult and provocative read and not one that I could describe as enjoyable. But I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking to broaden their understanding of the Middle East and some of its complex dynamics. And if you have any doubts about the use of the graphic novel/comic book format, you shouldn’t – it works remarkably well in the hands of this gifted artist. I’d rate this book 4.5 stars.

Palestine ~ by Joe Sacco

2001  (this is a collection of individual comics that were originally published separately 1993-1995)

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics Books; First Edition. states edition (January 2002)

    Amazon purchasing links for US/UK/Canada.

    This book will be included in the Graphics Novel Challenge.

    As always John/JD will be addressing the comments for this book. Please don’t forget to check the follow up box for his response.

    Thanks for reading.


    logankstewart said...

    Oh, this looks fantastic. Thanks for the review. These kinds of reads are always so difficult to use the word "enjoy," but I understand where you're coming from. Great job.

    John D said...

    Hi Logan,
    Thanks for stopping by and for the nice words. This is definitely one of the most thought-provoking and challenging things I've read all year. The words "nice surprise" don't fit the subject matter, but from a reading perspective it most certainly was.

    Aarti said...

    Oh, I have considered reading Sacco many times, and I think I'd start with this one. The Israel/Palestine conflict is so complicated, but a few books I've read this year have really made me more interested in learning more.

    John D said...

    Hi Arti,
    This is an excellent read - it works well from the perspectives of literature, journalism and visual art. For me it was educational too. You cant ask much than that from a book. If you do read it, we'd be interested to hear your views.

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