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Identity Politics

from graphic novel guest blogger, Francisca Goldsmith:

Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem won the Best Comic Book Award this year at Angoulème, the premier international comics festival.  A Quebecois who now has his home in France but keeps on the move to such rarely touristed places as North Korea, Delisle is the perfect investigator into life on the ground in East Jerusalem.  As a foreigner (and nominal if unbelieving Christian) he had relatively free access to neighborhoods and historic sites ranging as widely as the Dome of the Rock to a bend in the wall that divides the city and bounds one man’s back yard (formerly a small farm), from a classroom at Al-Quds University to an Orthodox Jewish Purim celebration and an unexpected opportunity to see the Armenian Quarter.

Delisle’s genius both as a cartoonist and as a human is his unassuming presence in places most foreigners can’t go (North Korea, Burma). Unlike cartoon journalist Joe Sacco, Delisle travels en famille (his daughter spends the year in an East Jerusalem kindergarten while his son is enrolled in primary school on the other side of the wall, in West Jerusalem) and takes on the basic housekeeping as it is his partner’s work with MSF that has placed the family in this particular part of the world.  In short, Delisle can reveal the profound and profuse machinations, indignities, and conceits suffered and exerted by the diverse inhabitants of Jerusalem because he looks, listens, and asks simple questions; he doesn’t take on the role of judge, mentor or mouthpiece. And in keeping his approach both simple and unsimplistic, he is able to bring the reader right into all the possibilities there are for allegiance, reliance on history, power, habit and tenacity.

Not only does this make Delisle’s current book a grand success but it also offers a springboard for introspection and discussion in our own politicized and diverse culture: who are the neighbors, and why are we more concerned about their ancestry than whether they can get to the hospital by a less circuitous route than around a wall?

* DELISLE, Guy. Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City. Tr. from French by Helge Dacher. illus. by author. 336p. Drawn & Quarterly. 2012. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-1-77046-071-3. LC number unavailable.  Jerusalem e1336506612598 Identity Politics

Adult/High School–A prize-winning Canadian cartoonist shares the year he and his family lived in Jerusalem, east of the Israeli built wall that stands as one of many constant witnesses to the multiple divisions of land and people. With his partner deeply ensconced in her work with MSF (Doctors without Borders), Delisle pursued his own divided life: he explored and collected imagery and experiences in his role as a cartoon documentarian of parts of the world most travelers rarely get to know, while also performing the duties of primary caretaker of his children and general housewifely duties. Delisle is inquisitive but sensitive, aware of when he misstepped by pressing strangers for information, but also eager and willing to discuss Palestine and Israel, as well as life in general, with folks he met who ranged from a local Lutheran pastor to a young Muslim women who attended his art lectures to another stay-at-home daddy. This is a rounded, insightful way to explore and become acquainted with how history, culture, ritual, and human emotions shape and misshape a storied part of the world most Americans know only through politically charged news accounts. Delisle always represents himself in these visits and musings, so readers knows exactly the narrator’s standpoint. Delicate and detailed cartoons inhabit mostly small and always bounded panels, with color accents highlighting sounds, sunsets, and points on the maps Delisle mentions to clarify how locations are connected–and disconnected–in the contemporary Middle East.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA

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Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.

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