Jerusalem Chronicles

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Guy Delisle’s wife’s job with Médecins san Frontières took the family to Jerusalem giving Delisle plenty of material for another graphic memoir, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City I enjoyed his account of his year in Israel, which allowed him a lot of time to travel to spots like Hebron, Gaza, the Tomb of the Macabees, Eilat and more. When he must travel to Rome, he runs into all sorts of trouble getting through immigration. They’re very suspicious of him because his lives in Jerusalem and when he tells the official that his wife works in Gaza, the wait gets prolonged.

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I like Delisle’s drawing, which shows everything in a very human scale. Delisle approaches his encounter with Jerusalem and the conflict in the region very authentically with what appears to be an open mind. I did come away with the impression that he tilts towards sympathy for the Palestinians, however he does try to show fully each side. It’s clear enough what he thinks, but he doesn’t knock you over the head with agitprop.

Jerusalem-interior-art-1Delisle’s an atheist, but more of a lost soul than a big time, passionate, atheist who has to proselytize every chance he can. He has a budding curiosity about religion mixed with a “can you believe what these religious folks do” sensibility.

Mainly, what I got from reading this book is what the daily routine and the opportunities to participate in the culture were for this one man. The book belongs with memoirs not with history or educational books. Delisle shows us his travails with picking up his kids in bad traffic, making friends with a priest who lets him use church space as a studio, the trouble his nanny experiences when her house is going to be demolished, his workshops for art students, his sightseeing journeys that never turned out as he expected (which is part of travel most anywhere). I appreciated Jerusalem Chronicles as one of many books on the region. This book was three times the length of Delisle’s other books that I’ve read, which goes to show there’s a lot to say about Jerusalem.

Burma Chronicles

Burma-ChroniclesAnother graphic memoir by Guy Delisle, Burma Chronicles presents the stories of what Delisle experienced when living for a year in Myanmar a.k.a. Burma while his wife was stationed there for Médecines sans Frontier.  He melts in the humidity, tries to see Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s home, drinks too much at expat parties, visits historic temples, gets lost and confused, which is a normal part of living overseas.

Like his previous work Pyongyang, I got caught up in his stories and appreciated his self-deprecating, wry humor. His illustrations captured the place while expressing his style. When his air conditioning broke, I felt like sweating. When none of his animation students had done their homework, I nodded in complete understanding.19_burmacomic_1_lg

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

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I highly recommend animator Guy Delisle’s graphic memoir Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Deslisle, a French Canadian, had to go to North Korea for two months to supervise the animators his French employer contracted (for their ultra-cheap rates). As you might expect the landscape and city are dreary, dark at night save a lit up portrait of the Supreme Leader. He recounts his dull, ever-present translator and guide. The food is bland and the restaurants dirty. Foreigners are separated from the People. So Delisle’s only companionship is a go-between at work, and other foreigners at the hotel or in the NGO compound, which has parties on the weekend.

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It was interesting to read about the approved responses Capt. Sin, Delise’s handler would give to his queries about the country and to learn of the pervasive propaganda. One “high” point was a visit to the Museum of American Oppression, which was two stories of images (three photos and many paintings) of Americans doing atrocious things to the North Koreans. There are paintings of US soldiers forcing motor oil down the throats of children and other forms of torture including the use of the rack, which seem quite dubious even if you acknowledge that yes, unfortunately, and shamefully, sometimes American military has resorted to torture. Capt. Sin was very disappointed that Delise didn’t react as he’d expected to the museum trip.

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delisle_guy_pyongyangThere are plenty of anecdote’s of the usual the translator isn’t around when Delisle needs him so rather than wait for hours Delisle goes out on his own through the streets of Pyongyang in search of a gift for his godson. “What’s to buy in the DPRK?” you might ask. Delisle did return empty handed as he couldn’t even find a cheap kitsch. Poor North Korea, indeed. Delisle made me feel like a friend he was sharing his tales of North Korea with. I felt his treatment was fair and thorough. I sure wouldn’t want to stay in Pyongyang a minute past two months. If you do have to go, even for a weekend, Bring food. What they offer seems dreadful.

Based on this book, I’m planning to read his books on Shenzhen and Jerusalem. The later I’ve already ordered from the library.

Economix

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Michael Goodwin and Dan Burr’s Economix (2012) is a graphic nonfiction book that explains economic principles in an accessible way. The book uses the narrative of a guy trying to learn more about economics to engage the reader. Organized chronologically, Economix begins just at the 17th century, though the author notes that economics pre-dates that era, but people didn’t know how to analyze it.

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The book was most helpful to me when it explained new concepts or elucidated ideas like “supply and demand” which have more complexity under certain situations. I liked learning about economists I hadn’t heard of such as David Ricardo.

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N.B. Neither Economix authors agree with Malthus

I appreciated learning that world and national economies are often so multifaceted that it’s (practically) impossible to predict or understand them. That assertion seems honest and I hadn’t heard that before that I can recall.

Towards current era, the authors state that the book will be more aligned with the Democrats and appreciated that admission. It’s unmistakable, but their statement made me trust their final chapters more. I do think the book would be better if it wasn’t so connected to American history and used more examples from all over the world, however, I guess they authors didn’t think their audience was very cosmopolitan.

All in all, Economix is a good introduction to economics, dark science that I’m trying to learn more about.

How to Understand Isreal in 60 Days or Less

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In How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, Sarah Glidden shares her thoughts and experiences on a Birthright Tour she took to Isreal. Guarded and skeptical, Sarah agrees to go on a Birthright Tour with her friend Melissa. The title is deliberately tongue in cheek and Glidden certainly knows no country can be understood after a short bus tour.

The purpose of the tours is to educate Jews from other countries about the history of Israel. Growing up with little teaching about her faith or the history of Israel, Sarah was quite skeptical. She’s got a Muslim boyfriend who worries that she’ll return a Zionist.

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At every stop, Sarah expects to hear just a bunch of propaganda. She questions everyone and everything. She is surprised to learn the complexity of the issues inherent in Isreal’s politics and history. She also winds up admitting that her tour guide and other speakers are genuinely understanding of the other side or know much more about the problems than she does.

The narrative is sincere and authentic. I did feel the book is a truthful, considerate story of an American girl’s tour of Israel. The end isn’t pat. Sarah continues to struggle with what to think about Israel and its history. I appreciated how genuine the story was. The illustrations are realistic and fitting.