Review – How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

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How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or LessVertigo has been on a kick lately of graphic novels taking on real world topics and stories.  The latest is Sarah Glidden‘s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less.  The story cover’s Glidden’s Birthright Israel trip and her struggle to understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict along with her own Judaism.

Glidden, a progressive American Jew who is sharply critical of Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Occupied Territories, went on an all-expense-paid “birthright” trip to Israel in an attempt to discover some grand truths at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This graphic memoir tells the touching and often funny story of her utter failure to do so. As the tour group moves from the Golan Heights to Tel Aviv, Glidden’s struggles with propaganda and perspective lead only to a morass of deepening questions and self-doubt. Her neurotic need for objective truths and struggle to reconcile historical perspectives is hugely gratifying for the reader. This is especially true when the group visits Masada, the site of an epic confrontation between a sect of Jewish rebels and a Roman siege army that culminated in mass suicide. Gruesome fanaticism or a stirring clarion call for the burgeoning Zionism movement? You be the judge. As befits a travelogue, Glidden’s drawings have the look of something jotted down on the fly; if it weren’t for a haircut here or a pair of glasses there, many of the characters would be indistinguishable. Yet the simplicity of the drawing is offset by bright, delicate watercolors that belie our heroine’s unresolved struggle with history and heritage.

The story is interesting in that it’s not only an introspective look, but lays out the conflict, key events and locations for those not familiar, and in a way takes a shot at the liberal left.

Glidden has to come to terms with her faith, her fellow people and how that jives with her own political views.  She even shows her own fault and prejudice she herself holds.  Throughout the story she also shows different views of those living on the front lives through her interactions with various Israeli’s she meets.

She also subtly shows the hypocrisy of so many involved not just in the conflict, but also those who sit on political side lines and throw out views without living in this world or growing up in either of the faith’s involved.

The book had me asking my own beliefs having been raised Jewish and no longer practicing and I came out thinking through the prejudices I hold and my own views on the conflict and it’s resolution.  I felt like in the end I myself had a better understanding of my own faith, the history and political landscape.  This graphic novel is an education as well as a tale.

I can’t praise it enough and just think it’s flawless in it’s story telling, narrative and art.  It’s honest in it’s views and finds fault within it’s characters on all sides bringing an even handed view to the conflict.  This is an absolute purchase and read.

Plot: Sarah Glidden brings a travel journal that’s not just a story of the world she visits and it’s quirks, but also a politically focused story that carefully deconstructs a century old conflict.  Glidden’s writing subtlety looks at politics, gender, racism, friendship and religion.  All of which without feeling preachy or attempting to force a worldview on the reader.   Rating: 10

Art: Glidden does double duty.  I’m a huge fan of the art.  It’s simple in it’s style but at the same time covers the detail that’s needed.  Everyone is a unique individual and the coloring has a water color feel to it.  There were definitely panels that had me pause.  What’s amazing as well is there’s a “Middle Eastern” feel to it all.  Rating: 10

Overall: A graphic novel that covers politics and religion that makes you think and isn’t preachy?  Sign me up!  This is a fantastic story that takes such a complicated issue and makes it understandable for the average person.  On top of that it’s a travel journal with some great humor and observation about her travels.  Just a fantastic piece of literature.  Overall rating: 10

Recommendation: Buy

Page count: 206 pages    Price: $24.95     Release: Out Now