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Monday, 24 January 2011


Art and Writing by Joe Sacco
Publisher: jonathan Cape

What's it about?
Joe Sacco is a Jewish American journalist who in the early 1990s spent two months in Israel and Palestine, meeting and interviewing people the people living there.  The results of these conversations and experiences have been turned into this book.

The book is split into nine chapters, which are in turn split into subsections titled:
Cairo, Taxi, A Thousand Words, The Tough and the Dead, Women, Ramallah, Law, Jabalia, Handicapped, Moderate Pressure and more. 

What's good about it?
The comic book medium seems to sort Sacco's style of storytelling well.  As you read through the book the visual nature of it provides an emotional impact that you would be unlikely to be able to replicate in prose.
Sacco admits his biases towards Israel and Palestine, both as an American and a journalist.  He confronts and discusses his role in the conflict and reports on his interviewees views on the West's responsibilities. As will be mentioned in the art section, he is a talented cartoonist who is well able to provoke emotions in the reader as well as expertly portraying the difficulties of remaining impartial when you spend such a long time in one place.

From a feminist perspective, Sacco does include a section on women's live in Palestine, but doesn't just relegate the women to this small part.  He talks to all different types of people throughout the book, old and young, employed and unemployed, able bodied and disabled, men and women.  This gives us what seems to be a well rounded perspective on Palestinians lives.  I say 'seems' because this is the only book I've read about Palestine.  Perhaps Sacco has missed out important areas, but to me it seems pretty thorough.

The book never explicitly condemns Israel for it's treatment of the Palestinians.  Instead Sacco provides us with the facts and lets us reach our own conclusions.  I feel that this is a far more effective method of engaging with readers.  In addition to this, although the book is centred around the Palestinian experience; we do read about Israeli people's lives, their feelings towards the conflict and we discover some of the historical events that have shaped Israel.  This reader came away with the impression that most Israelis don't really understand what life is like on the West Bank or how the government creates so many obstacles for living when Palestinian. 

What's bad about it?
This probably shouldn't be considered a beginners guide to the conflict.  Although there is some historical background it is assumed that the reader will know something about the settlements and occupation.

What's the art like?
Sacco is an accomplished cartoonist who can portray a wide range of emotions.  He can tell stories without using words and he draws (no pun intended) you into the page, forcing you to engage with the realities of his interviewees lives.
Sacco's self portraits are interesting - he always has his glasses on so you can't see his eyes and therefore can't engage with him.  This reminds us of his difference, that he is an outsider looking in, asking questions about and examining the lives of the people he's talking to.
At the same time, he cannot help but be emotionally involved when he spends along time with families, or hears the same stories over and over again.  His body language, style of lettering and phrasing reinforces this dichotomy.  Questions of impartiality are suggested and the reader ends up considering how much of Sacco is in the finished article.  This isn't a criticism - rather, I find it a refreshingly honest piece of journalism.
Other information
Price: £14.99, but currently £8.98 on Amazon.
ISBN: 0224069829
Look inside the book here.

Sacco has written a number of other books including Footnotes in Gaza, Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95, Notes from a Defeatist and more.  Amazon's website lists them all.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review! I agree. Like what you said about his impartiality and blank glasses look.

    I think a reader could do worse than considering it an introduction to the issue though, is quite clear and not hectoring or biased, I think.