I’ve been trying to branch out and read more non-fiction in graphic novels so I decided to pick up “The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afganistan With Doctors Without Borders” and “How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less.” Both of these books had the potential to be incredibly depressing and hopeless. To whit, the conflict between Israel and Palestine seems almost completely unsolvable, from just about any perspective, “The Photographer” takes place in the mid-80’s, during the war between the Soviets and the Mujahadeen, we all know how that turned out. The books both take place in the Middle East and are viewed by outsiders who don’t entirely understand the language and the culture of the countries they are visiting and the narrators don’t have total autonomy, though for different reasons.
“The Photographer” is based on diaries, photographs and recollections by Didier Lefèvre, a French photo-journalist accompanying the humanatarian organization Doctors Without Borders. Most of the book chronicles the day-to-day work of the doctors, many of whom returned to Afganistan 2 or 3 times. For individuals like myself who are not familiar with the region or its culture, it was very illuminating to see the Muslim world depicted without any particular political bent. One of the genius aspects of this book is the incorporation of Didier’s photographs, which are often shown in sequence, not unlike film stock or comic panels. The interaction between the photos and Emmanuel Guibert’s (a close friend of Lefèvre’s who helped reconstruct the trip) art is fascinating and fairly unique in the world of comics. Beautiful, beautiful photography and from back in the olden times before digital cameras were around.
“How To Understand Israel In 60 Days or Less” by Sarah Glidden is a horse of a different color. Glidden, the writer, illustrator and narrator is travelling to Israel on an all-expense-paid Birthright Tour that all Jewish people are eligible for (once they pass a thorough background check, as illustrated towards the beginning of the book) to try see if her understanding of “the situation” between Israel and the Occupied Territories is accurate. Through the course of the tour she becomes more confused and upset, trying to cling to her “the Birthright is trying to brainwash me into thinking that Israel is in the right and Palestine is in the wrong” narrative. It is satisfying to not have Glidden come down definitively for or against Israel’s occupation at the end. Be warned, both these graphic novels are fairly long and contain a good amount of history and culture. Not easy reads, but very good ones.