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How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less Hardcover – November 9, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
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.
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From School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up–After years of questioning her heritage, arguing with her mother about what it means to be Jewish, and dating a “goy,” Glidden succumbed to the lure of an all-expense-paid trip to Israel through Birthright, a program that offers Jewish young adults first-time trips to the country. At the onset, she declared, “I'm ready to go there and discover the truth behind this whole mess once and for all. It will be crystal clear by the time I come back.” An experienced traveler and a skeptic, she details her two-month excursion through cities and deserts. Readers witness her personal conflict as she seeks to view Israel with an objective eye. One effective literary device is the use of illustrated flashbacks from both Glidden's and Israel's past. The ghosts of David Ben Gurion and Sarah's deceased younger brother accompany her for several panels during her journey. She encounters the worldview of non-Eastern European Jews, Israeli soldiers, and her traveling companions, and begins to realize her limited perspective as she wonders “how many other people on the trip I've completely misjudged.” The author's inner voices as she struggles with her conflicting emotions are brilliantly portrayed during brief trials in “the court of birthright vs. brainwash,” where she serves as the prosecutor, defense, and judge. The tongue-in-cheek title hints at both the subtle humor and the complex subject matter. Glidden's soft, watercolor palette and realistic art complement without overshadowing this thoughtful exploration of the role that cultural heritage plays in the search for personal identity.–Barbara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NYα(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Surely Ms Glidden was as distressed as I when she saw that her labor-intensive color comic book was issued with skimpy margins, the 208 pages vised by a hard cover that causes the art to hump into the gutter, to almost kiss in the gutter. Vertigo publisher can indeed induce vertigo in the reader.
Jewish-Lite Brooklynite Sarah, 26 years old, was persuaded by the Birthright Israel spokesperson to join the March 2007 excursion, all expenses paid, to the Holy Land, and so she got her friend Melissa an invitation too. Length of the trip was only 10 days, not 60, and the group of young men and women constituted a busload, casually dressed, to reside in a series of simple accommodations and eat simple foods. No alcohol or sex (I'm just throwing that in).
The purpose of the Birthright program is to link the diasporans to the reality of their motherland, to tread Israeli soil, to visit historic sites, to germinate that tiny seed in each [...] at birth no matter where one is born in this world. Sarah wondered if the come-on would amount to brain washing: it didn't. The routine was rather assembly-line--sometime Sarah could see the Birthright group ahead of her, the one behind her. One or more Israeli soldiers might be in the environment, but this was not a time of active Arab threat.
Ms Glidden's 8-9-panel pages are not confined to the actualities of the 10 days. She interjects scenes from biblical times. She draws ghostly presences. She finally has a bit of depression, she sheds a tear or two. But this is not transformation, it is vaccination. Ms Glidden has a sketchbook, a camera, but as it turns out she mostly makes notes. Upon her return to the States, she prepares a 24-page black and white comic book to be the first two chapters of her self-published memoir. But the Vertigo scout is immediately taken by the segment, and Sarah is contracted for the 208-page color version. Her drawing style is simple but very effective in vivifying the reality of her experience. Her subdued color captures the feel of Mediterranean sun bleaching any shadow (it never rains in the 10 days). Her word balloons are worthy of authors with a natural instinct for unblemished prose. Her humor is subtle, but there.
The book back says "Suggested for Mature Readers." But in fact the book is great for 10th graders and up. Every Jewish youth has that "tiny seed in each [...]" and will appreciate Sarah's gift. If your youths are Gentile, well, maybe they'd rather have the cash (just kidding!).
The first big example of this woman's bigotry was labeling a man a homophobic because he was opposed to gay marriage. It was a good old-fashioned statement, "People who have opinions other than mine are bad."
I wasn't too thrilled with the periodic profanity either. The art is competent for a graphic novel. The plot is reasonably well constructed. Informative, however, not at all, unless you count finding out how narrow-minded a young New Yorker can be.
The "graphic novel" form didn't do much for me, but it makes Ms Glidden's personal discovery story more accessible. There is no room for over-analysis, and it keeps temptations to expand the scope of the effort in check.
This is a good introduction to the topic of Israel and the human impact of the region's unrest. The book's back cover says "suggested for mature audiences". Another reviewer's comments says it's approved by some scholastic board for readers in 10th Grade and older. Occassional strong language aside, which I suspect is not limited to 10th Grade and older ears (and tongues), I'd say this could be a primer for anyone mature enough to attempt to tackle a topic as complex as the Arab-Israeli conflict.