How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less
Written and Illustrated by Sarah Glidden
$24.99 / 208 pages / Color
I know what your first question will be right off, and no, I don't now fully understand Israel and its politics and troubles in their entirety now, having read the book. But I do certainly have a better grasp than I did before.
The book is more or less the story of the author's trip to Israel on an official Birthright trip, where Israel pays for Jewish people around the world to come and visit Israel at no cost to them. The organized groups tour the country, and tell their story, so that non-Israeli Jews can experience the country. Glidden approached the trip with a good deal of skepticism, having conflicts about the political situation surrounding Israel. Her boyfriend was of Arabic descent, and she didn't want to appear to him to be brainwashed by the Zionists in Israel, so she wanted to be open minded when she arrived in Israel. It turned out that the ideological whitewash she expected wasn't nearly as one-sided as she feared, and she was left with a lot more knowledge, and plenty more questions.
The thing I admire most about this book is the chutzpah required to even attempt the topic. Depending on who you're talking to, and their background, beliefs, and politics, it's a tricky subject on the best of days. To try to capture any sort of meaning in about 200 pages of graphic novel is a daunting task, and at the end of the whole thing, Glidden sort of comes up with the conclusion that there aren't really any good or easy answers. All sides of the thing have valid concerns, grievances, and rights. In the book, Glidden kept expecting to run into some die-hard Zionist zealots who she could really sink her teeth into, but over and over she encountered regular people trying to live regular lives in peace. No one was happy about the conflict, and while there was definite blame placed on Palestineans, there was also a lot of understanding and sympathy. It was the personal touch, from talking to so many people in Israel, and getting their points of view down on paper that made tbe biggest impact on me. It's one thing to read a newspaper, and get facts about what happened, and it's another thing entirely to try to understand it from the point of view of people who experience and live with it every day.
The art is a fairly simple and expressive cartooning that Glidden uses to good effect. These kinds of stories do well to capture the essence of the real people they're portraying, and somewhat paradoxically, a more emotionally evocative style works better than realism. At the same time, Glidden did well to represent the "otherness" of the places she was visiting all across Israel. Some feel as familiar as any in America, and others feel like absolutely nowhere I've ever been. I always admire artists who can strip down the art to the barest elements, and still make the world seem real.
It's not fair to categorize this book as a simple history and culture lesson, because it's also the story of a journey for the author herself, as she starts to grow up a bit more over the course of the trip, both in comparison to herself as she started, and some of the other people in her tour group. When your'e in your twenties, and you're trying to figure out what's important to you, and who you want to be, a trip like this gives you an incredible chance to self-examine, since you're removed from your normal life. I definitely related to Glidden in this way, as she tried to reconcile the notions she had before the trip, and the ones she developed during the trip. Sometimes she related to her culture, and at other times, she felt no real connection to it. In that way, this is a great book for anyone going through that time in their lives, or anyone who has. There is also a hell of a lot of information about what Israel is like today, at least in terms of the places the Birthright trip took the author. It's certainly worth a look if the topics have any resonance with you, and your political ideas are still malleable enough to roll around different concepts about what is and what isn't right about Israel and how you want to think about it. At the same time, you'll learn a whole lot about Israel if you didn't know much to begin with, and more knowledge is always a good thing.
Story: 3.5 / Art: 3.5 / Overall: 3.5
(Out of 5)
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is available today. Pull it.