Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Reader's Diary #859- Joe Sacco: Palestine

A couple of years ago Debbie and I saw posters all over town advertising for a Palestinian Appreciation night. "In celebration of Palestinian food and culture!" the poster promised. We're always up for trying new cultural foods. Palestinian music sounded exciting. Naively, we went.

Actually the food was quite good. The music was delightfully interesting. But then the propaganda started. At this point I want to make it perfectly clear that I'm not saying where I stand on the Israel/Palestine issue. I know where I stand, but I'm not saying here. The last time I blogged about a Joe Sacco book, I upset one reader enough to send me a several pages long comment about how Karadzic was not a war criminal. The internet breeds a whole lot of crazy, especially where politics are concerned, and that's not a door I'm interested in opening if I can help it. Anyway, my issue wasn't that the Yellowknife Palestinian community wanted to generate support for their cause, it was that I felt manipulated. The posters made it sound like we were in for a party, not a protest.

With Sacco's Palestine, I at least knew what to expect. As I stated above, it's not my first exposure to Sacco, so I knew I'd appreciate the artwork. The work that he puts into drawings is fantastic. (I bought some new drawing pens and I've been on a crosshatching rampage the last few days.) Palestine also pops up in a lot of "best of" lists, and I was right in concluding that it would be a quality piece of art. Joe Sacco was a journalist first, and as with War's End, that shows through. Palestine is not so much a story as it is a documentary.

And what can we conclude from this documentary? Speaking in generalizations of course, the people of Palestine do not have it easy. They can be gracious hosts to people who are willing to listen. Everyone has an injustice story, and every other person has an injury to accompany such a story. Many are angry. Many are weary. They have very little acceptable outlet to vent their grief. Stones are as much a weapon as they were since our cavemen days. Stones also communicate a message. It's an emotionally tiring topic.

None of these may come as a shock if you really think about it, but if you're like me, you most often don't think about it. It's been a world issue to any possible generation that could possibly be reading this post and though it's not really getting better, it doesn't even make the news much any more. Or it does and as it hasn't gotten significantly better, I just don't attentively tune in very often. Except when I meet the rare person who goes to the middle east as a tourist or to work. That's when I get more riled up. I want to visit the middle east someday, but truth be told, it scares me. I know I can't paint the whole area with one brush, but there seems to be so much trouble in or around that part of the world. It's such a fascinating place, why can't they get their act together so I can visit and spend a few dollars on a souvenir mug?

Selfish, right? And that's what I love about Sacco's Palestine. He puts the selfish tourist to shame; he's the bloodthirsty journalist. He doesn't even want stability, he wants to see the victims. Now that would make for an interesting comic! Or at least that's the way he presents himself. And I love this honesty, or at least the over the top deprecation. When the sights and the people finally take their toll on him, his humanity is all the more endearing. And even more to his credit, while he definitely makes himself a character in this book, it's not so egocentric as to detract from the Palestinians themselves.

Quite an achievement.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have never read any of Sacco's books, but I think I would like to start with this one. It's a fascinating, troubled, area of the world.

Loni said...

I saw this book years ago on a display table and every so often it pops up again. I think I should read it, especially after your review.

John Mutford said...

Barbara and Loni: I recommend it and would love to hear your thoughts after!