I like to keep myself with an ear to politics. Ostensibly, I am a twenty-something living in middle class Connecticut, with a liberal catholic upbringing that transformed into post-collegiate liberal agnosticism with trace hints of subdued anti-theism. I have strong opinions on many things--female reproductive rights, sexual equality, the Tea Party, and more. I hate copyright. I dislike corporate personhood. I think the rich should pay more taxes.
I do not understand Israel.
How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less changed that. The book follows author/illustrator Sarah Glidden through her “Birthright Israel” trip. She--like the potential audience--comes from a place of innocent ignorance, unsure of her confidence in the trip but excited. As a reader, we mirror the experience, learning about the myriad of issues surrounding such a complicated topic as Israel. It’s a lengthy book--each page is an essay unto itself, though it avoids preaching. I can’t actually do it a good service in this review--it deserves a discussion group. The way that this book shows so many different points of view on the subject is astounding, and it even goes so far as to still have a more general message: people need not get zealous about even the harshest of issues. Perhaps the best way to come to a conclusion on a subject is discourse, not violence. This book is a prerequisite to anyone who is interested in the conflicts and history of Israel.
But I don't want discount the story with the message. The book is really about Sarah, her own character, going on a journey. Whereas I came from absolute ignorance, the culture and history of Israel is central to Sarah’s identity (even if the subject was not necessarily examined.). Her observations on the other members of the tour group are interesting and worth examining as well. The book has a lot to say about humans undergoing change, especially in the context of such a tumultuous part of the earth.
The art is consistent, and often absolutely wonderful. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is simple--it is watercolor, which blurring some of the finer detail, but it is simplistic. That’s not a dig on the art at all. This blurring fits in a grander thematic sense within the book, as Sarah occasionally wanders off in to the mystical or fantastic. The characters design is, in many ways, minimalist, without drawing away from the complex emotions.
I do not claim to understand Israel, even after reading this book. I can say, however, that this book has made me think about it more and more, to the point where perhaps I could foster an opinion. That’s the book’s final gift; like the characters, the story wants only to show you around Israel and explain its history, without pushing a particular philosophy or belief on you. You share perspective with Sarah: you are curious about Israel, and you want to learn more.
TL;DR: A book that should be on the reading list of anyone interested in the past and present of Israel. Buy this, now.
How to Understand Israel in 60 days or Less is published by Vertigo and written and illustrated by Sarah Glidden. Pick it up at your local book or comic store. If you can’t find it there, there is always Amazon.