Book review: Palestine

Since we had been talking about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in relation to the news, I figured it was also time to read Joe Sacco’s Palestine. Like Persepolis, this was originally published in several volumes but has been reprinted in a single volume with an added bonus of an introduction by Edward Said. The juxtaposition of Said’s writing with Sacco’s graphic presentation is interesting though Said also has interesting things to say about the possibilities of the graphic medium drawing on the role of comics in his own life.

Sacco is a journalist and this collection is an interesting journalistic experiment in that the process by which he comes to know what he tells is an important part of the story. He is not trying to give a “balanced” account in the sense of showing both sides, but rather to provide an account that he finds is missing from most of the American journalism on the subject. Thus the book is meant to compliment other sources of information. He does attempt to provide a fair account and I think that letting the reader see how he came to know these things about the situation in Palestine is important. In general, I think he succeeds in this attempt at fairness, to the extent that this is possible in a situation as complex as the one he portrays. The context in which different people living there frame their own opinions of the situation is also portrayed well. While Sacco clearly has sympathy for the Palestinian people, he is able to portray the complexity and contradictions. Plenty of food for thought.

In terms of whether the material is suitable for children. I think that any child (probably middle school age and older) that is already aware of these political issues could probably cope. While violence and the effects of violence are portrayed, they are not glorified nor is there gratuitous graphic portrayal of brutality. Much is understood rather than portrayed directly. Sacco includes information about the lives of children, which I find is often interesting to children when they read about events.

I like his drawing style. And he lays out the panels in interesting ways. His slightly self-deprecating tone works well. It’s not overdone, but it gives a certain humility to the reporting. He portrays his own fear and his own goofiness. The contrast between his visits to Palestinian towns and refugee camps and his life in Jerusalem where he is staying is also interesting. I think that seeing the journalist in the story in this way probably makes us read other journalism differently. Or at least ask questions about the extent of the journalists engagement with his subject.

For teenagers with an interest in politics, this would be an excellent book to recommend. It raises a lot of important questions about point of view in politics and journalism. It also raises some interesting questions about the role of journalism in making political change (an ideal that many young people hold). At the same time it is not cynical.

I’m now thinking I will look for his books on the Bosnian conflict. Some of his earlier work has been collected in the volume Notes from a Defeatist, which also looks interesting. It includes his reflections on the Gulf War as well as something on his mother’s experience of World War I.

I’m a sucker for those “you might also enjoy” recommendations and spotted this while I was looking up those links. King: A comics biography of Martin Luther King by Ho Che Anderson. That might also be worth checking out, particularly for those of you who teach American history in some sort of systematic way. The cover art looks fascinating.

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