Adam's Reviews > How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden
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's review
Oct 11, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: recent-enthusiasms

There is a certain type of young progressive intellectual who over-thinks and over-talks everything, who has elaborate opinions on things he or she has no actual experience of, and who is perfectly willing to take costly handouts (like an all-expenses-paid trip to the Holy Land) even while expecting to bite the hand that feeds it. And one of the charms of Sarah Glidden’s travel-memoir graphic novel is that she has no qualms in portraying herself as just such a character--often greatly annoying, but only occasionally unlikable.

How to Understand Israel… is the first graphic novel I’ve read in a very long time that kept me interested throughout and that I can recommend to just about anyone. But then I also like really “talky” films, too, like My Dinner with Andre, Mindwalk, and Before Sunrise. And the art here is great. The only reason I never read the Persepolis books was because the art looked so flat and dull (and I was glad to hear Art Spiegelman concur with this). By contrast, Glidden’s art is simple only at first glance. Once you’ve spent a few minutes with the book, you quickly see her talent with layouts and with figures.

Most importantly, Glidden does a fine job of creating a great “tension of ideas” here, which convincingly portrays the trouble of the Israel/Palestine conflict and why there are no easy solutions. She frequently voices her own knee-jerk opinions to other characters in the book and then sees those opinions torn to shreds by facets of the situation she hasn’t bothered to consider. And, of course, as a storyteller she does allow some personal prejudice to slip by unanswered. At one point early in the book she characterizes as “offensive” a comment by her tour guide--“We have a saying here: ‘The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss and opportunity.’” Yet several pages later she smugly calls some Christians, who are practicing water baptism in the Jordan River, “visiting wildlife.” And there are a few instances where, conveniently, she never has to confront someone who might really shake up her personal beliefs (a believed “anti-gay” character turns out to be pro-gay; Glidden allows a potential, daring visit to a Palestinian neighborhood to fall through; etc.) Yet Glidden reveals far more than she conceals here, and the result is a challenging, eye-opening book.
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