Category Archives: Palestinian

Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Where the Streets Had a NameHere’s the seemingly simple story: When her grandmother falls ill, 13-year-old Hayaat decides that a jarful of her ancestral soil – a mere six miles away – will be the very thing that will make her grandmother well, so Hayaat grabs her best friend and goes off on her quest.

But … there’s always the ‘but’ … when home is a conflict zone, six miles might as well be 600. Hayaat is a Palestinian living inside heavily guarded walls in Bethlehem, her family forcibly displaced from her father’s home of many generations once filled with olive trees and open space. Now cramped into a tiny apartment, the family of seven is often at odds with one another, their movement restricted by long curfews. The family matriarch, Hayaat’s grandmother, has little left beyond her stories of another time and place, of family Hayaat can never meet except through the stories she never tires of hearing.

Hayaat bears the scars, both inside and out, of a childhood amidst guns, soldiers, and shifting borders. Her best friend Samy is a virtual orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle, having lost his father to prison and his mother to a heart attack soon thereafter. The intrepid pair venture forth through barriers, guard towers, and checkpoints – never mind not having any travel permits – and head toward Jerusalem with only a vague description of a long-ago neighborhood and a much-missed home. Their journey is aided by the kindness of strangers, including a peace activist couple, the husband a former Israeli Defense Force soldier who refused to finish his service in protest of the military mistreatment of Palestinians.

Randa Abdel-Fattah – Australian-born and domiciled, of Egyptian and Palestinian descent – offers a sobering novel about the harsh lives of children who inherit the consequences and tragedies of adult hostilities. In spite of childhoods stolen by violence, identities shaped by resentment and hatred, young people like Hayaat somehow manage to hold on to their humanity: “… so long as there is life there’ll be love … I’ll do more than survive … in the end we are all of us only human beings who laugh the same, and … one day the world will realize that we simply want to live as free people, with hope and dignity and purpose. That is all.”

Out of the mouth of babes …

Tidbit: Just as I finished writing this post, this link serendipitously landed in my inbox from a dear friend: “Books about Contemporary Palestine for Children” by Katharine Davies Samway. Timing really IS everything!

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2008, 2010 (United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Australian, Palestinian

Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis

Given the latest headlines in the Middle East, this seems to be the perfect time for another Deborah Ellis title. Best known for her Breadwinner Trilogy (The BreadwinnerParvana’s Journey, and Mud City) which became a tetrology this fall with My Name is Parvana, Ellis is an award-winning Canadian author whose international anti-war activism has given fierce power to her titles; she’s also parlayed her bestselling success to raise over a million dollars in royalties for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kid International with the first three Breadwinner titles alone.

While Ellis’ nonfiction titles for younger readers definitely reflect her anti-war beliefs, she doesn’t lecture or preach. Instead, she gives voice to the children who are living in war zones (Three Wishes, Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely through a Never-Ending War), in refugee areas (Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees), and in the left-behind homes of deployed military personnel (Off to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children). Read together, the message is loud and clear: no one suffers more than the children. The foursome should be bundled together and sent to every policymaker throughout the world.

“In World War I, 15 percent of all casualties were civilians. In World War II, 50 percent of all casualties were civilians. In 2004, 90 percent of all casualties in war are civilians,” the epigraph stuns. Over six pages that follow, Ellis lists the names and ages of the 429 children who were killed between September 29, 2000 (the onset of the Second Intifada) and March 7, 2003.

In “a very small piece of land on the Mediterranean Sea,” Ellis writes in her introduction, “… a land sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians … the area has been at war for more than fifty years”: “The ongoing fight over this land means the children who live there spend their lives in a place of constant war.” In 2002, Ellis traveled to Israel and Palestine to speak to some of these children. Unless you recognize a name, can you really tell which ‘side’ these children are on?

Nora, 12: “I’m not supposed to go out by myself because my mother thinks I won’t be able to move fast enough if the soldiers come.”

Mona, 11: “I just want to go to school.”

Yanal, 14: “Being religious, whether you are Muslim or Christian or Jewish, or whatever you are, means that you should help people, and make the world better, and not just think of yourself. We have these things in common, at least in our religions.”

Maryam, 11: “I have only one wish. I would like to go to heaven. Maybe in heaven there is happiness, after we die. Maybe then.”

Elisheva, 18: “We could have lived like neighbors, and we did for awhile. We went to their weddings and feasts, and they came to ours. I remember when I was little we would go to their parties, and they were always friendly and welcoming. All of that has changed. Now we don’t know who we can trust.”

Hassan, 18: I would like to be a policeman when I get older. I would be a good policeman. People would trust me, and I would keep them safe.”

Yibaneh, 18: “God has become unclear. He’s heading somewhere, but it’s hard to see how this will all come to a good end.”

Asif, 15: “When I’m eighteen, I’ll go into the army. It’s the law for three years. … If I’m given an order I don’t like, an order to do something I think is wrong, I will refuse to do it. It’s important to protect the people, protect the Palestinians, I mean. I want to be a moral voice in the army …”

Mai, 18: “But now this wall is being built between us and them, and that will make it even harder for us to get to know each other as human beings. I don’t see God in this anywhere at all. I’ve never believed in God. We will make our own peace, just as we made our own war.”

Out of the mouth of babes … listen and learn. Peace, too, can be a choice.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2004

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Canadian, Israeli, Palestinian

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle, translated by Helge Dascher

Guy Delisle is a graphic genius who draws what he sees – simply and unadornedly – with droll, minimal commentary, and creates some of the most poignant, effective, resonating memoirs ever. French Canadian Delisle has undoubtedly found international fame as a traveling artist: he recreated his temporary assignments to faraway animation studios in Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China: A Journey and Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea; he’s turned his family’s foreign postings (a result of his partner/girlfriend/wife/mother of his children – her moniker varies, sometimes by the panel! – employment with Médecins San Frontières/Doctors Without Borders) into The Burma Chronicles and now this, his latest, Jerusalem.

From August 2008 to July 2009, Delisle, his partner Nadège, their two young children Louis and Alice, call East Jerusalem ‘home.’ Two days after arrival, an MSF employee stops by and provides an initial glimpse of the complicated, labyrinthine geography – literal, historical, cultural, religious – into which the family has landed: “This is the ‘east’ part of Jerusalem. It’s an Arab village that was annexed following the six-day war in ’67. … According to the Israeli government, we’re definitely in Israel, but for the international community, which doesn’t recognize the 1967 borders, we’re in the West Bank, which should become Palestine (if that day ever comes). … For the international community, [the capital of Israel is] Tel Aviv. That’s where the embassies are. But for Israel, it’s Jerusalem. The Parliament, or ‘Knesset,’ is here, not in Tel Aviv.” Delisle’s outward reaction is “Hmm … ok.” Silently, he admits, “I didn’t really get it, but I tell myself I’ve got a whole year to figure it out …” And thus begins a year of living surreally…

While Nadège works, Delisle takes care of the children, and works when he can, which includes explorations between shifting borders. His gleeful sense of discovery is contagious; his observations are priceless.

His first outing without the family is an invitation to accompany an Israeli women’s group to the separation wall (“I didn’t think it would be so high”) where he dons one of the organization’s vests for safety (“At Machsom Watch, we’re against the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. We’re calling for their freedom of movement in their own land and an end to the occupation, which is destroying Palestinian society and damaging our own”), where he buys pickles (“Let’s try the local delicacies”) amidst journalists, kevlar-helmeted photographers, soldiers taking posed pictures of each other (“You’d think it’s the Eiffel Tower or the Great Pyramids”), before taking cover from tear gas grenades, machine guns … and stones (“F**k me!”).

Suffice it to say that no one, no one, can capture that ‘you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up’-sense of reality like Delisle. Jerusalem is surely his best work thus far; it’s also thankfully his longest. To reveal anything more feels selfish … to share the contagion seems to be the nobler option. To quote Delisle at book’s end: “And that’s it, a year of good and faithful service.” Spread the word.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2012 (United States)

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, .Translation, Arab, Canadian, Israeli, Palestinian

Sharon and My Mother-In-Law: Ramallah Diaries by Suad Amiry

For most of us in the west, our filtered news of the Middle East is, more often than not, rife with contention, violence, and tragedy. Laughter would certainly be a rare reaction to the decades-long Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and yet Palestinian author Suad Amiry manages to “step out of the frame and observe the senselessness of the moment” in order to capture the “absurdity of my life and the lives of others” in her award-winning debut memoir, complete with giggles and guffaws. Her ability to generate laughter most recently had her center stage – billed as a “comedian”! – for a public performance in Washington, DC earlier this month.

By training, Amiry is a PhD-ed architect and founder of Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah, Palestine where she currently lives. By experience, she is a refugee, an activist, a peace negotiator. Only by accident, she is also a writer.

Amiry’s authorly life began virtually – as late night emails to “intimate friends” during the Israeli occupation of her Ramallah neighborhood from November 2001 to September 2002: “Writing was an attempt to release the tension caused and compounded by Ariel Sharon and my mother-in-law.” Those sanity-searching missives went selectively viral among relatives and friends of friends, morphed into a manuscript (some of the lost content retrieved from friends’ in-boxes), and soon Amiry was awarded the 2004 Viareggio-Versilia Prize, one of Italy’s top literary awards.

Amiry’s winning memoir is an intimate read, comprised of her “personal war diaries” from 1981 to 2004. Born in Damascus, Syria, and raised in Amman, Jordan, by Palestinian parents forced to flee their home in Jaffa in 1948 with the creation of Israel, Amiry returns to an occupied Palestine she knows only through her parents’ recollections and a few childhood memories. She arrives in 1981 to teach at Birzeit University. She falls in love, marries, and settles in Ramallah, trying to live an everyday life in spite of being caught in the crossfire (politically and literally) of a perennial war zone.

In Amiry’s world of constant checkpoints, changing borders, and unpredictable curfews, grocery shopping is a race against time while whole days can get lost waiting for an Israeli government-issued gas mask. Amiry’s dog can easily get an identity card to move freely in and out of Jerusalem, while Amiry struggles for seven epic years to get her own identity card which will allow her to legally live with her own husband in their Ramallah home. Amiry and that husband get taken into official custody because of a staring contest Amiry won’t concede against an irate Israeli soldier. Amiry decides last-minute that she cannot have her mother-in-law’s missing front door replaced because the blacksmith’s tools might look too much like weapons to the patrolling Israeli soldiers whose “colleagues blew open [the door] three days previously.”

Throughout the quickly-paced 200 pages, Amiry’s stories are of the ‘you can’t make this stuff up’-variety, so ludicrous that only her irreverent humor – even as it is sometimes mixed with tears – can make you feel her desperation, her anger, her own unwilling complicity with the all-too-often appalling challenges of day-to-day life. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that Amiry’s own book, translated into 11 languages and available all over the world, has more global freedom that its author, not to mention the majority of her Palestinian neighbors.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2003, 2005 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Palestinian

touch by Adania Shibli, translated by Paula Haydar

Less is indeed more in Palestinian writer Adania Shibli’s U.S. debut-in-translation. The deceptively minimal 72 pages of touch holds layered shards from a young girl’s life, some shining with promise, others sharp with painful gravity, but undoubtedly an existence shattered at seemingly regular intervals by violence and tragedy.

The unnamed girl is the youngest in a large family of nine girls and one son. She goes to school, forgets-on-purpose to wear her unfashionable coat in the rain, gets teased by her classmates, and learns to read (books will soon enough guide her into other worlds). She chases rainbows, fights with her older siblings, watches her mother perform her prayers, and plays a secret game of evol with the neighbor boy.

She goes to too many funerals for one so young, waits for her absent father to return by counting the passing cars (“Thirty cars for the father’s car to get there, another thirty cars for him to return, and twenty cars for his stay there”), and doesn’t ask questions when she overhears charged conversations of “Oh my God” mixed with “Sabra and Shatila.” As she grows, her relationship with her siblings and parents become distanced, until finally she can only view her home through a rearview mirror. Survival (thus far) comes with immeasurable cost.

Shibli, lauded as a major young voice in Arabic fiction, deftly intertwines the mundane with the shocking to create a girl’s life in uncertain times. Shibli carefully lays out events and details, as if lining up possible matching fragments of a complicated puzzle: she introduces, for example, each of the girl’s eight older sisters in ascending order by age, their interactions that begin with the young girl bathing with her eighth sister to being slapped by the eldest sister by title’s end. As the sparse pages turn all too quickly, haunted readers are left to piece together the shards … both gleaming and tarnished, hopeful and resigned.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2010 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Translation, Palestinian

Palestine’s Children: Returning to Haifa and Other Stories by Ghassan Kanafani, translated by Barbara Harlow and Karen E. Riley

Contrary as I am, I find I must start with this book backwards. The final entry in this important title by one of Palestine’s literary icons is not only the collection’s highlight, but it is undoubtedly one of those haunting ‘what-if’ situations that you’ll find difficult to let go. An indelible novella, Returning to Haifa combines two historical events in Palestine: May 14, 1948 when Israel declared statehood which led to the expulsion of some 200,000 Palestinians from their homes that very day, eventually growing to 700,000 who were made refugees by the end of the war that ensued; and 1967 when the borders between Israel and Gaza and the Left Bank were opened for the first time since 1948, allowing Palestinians to at least visit their former homes.

Almost 20 years since Said and Safiyya were driven out of Haifa, they now return and find Miriam, a widowed Jew, living in their home. When the Palestinian couple fled amidst violent confusion, they somehow left their infant son Khaldun behind. Returning to their Haifa home for the first time, Said and Safiyya hope for news of their lost son. Miriam has been waiting for almost two decades, dreading the future of her adopted son Dov … The Solomon-like confrontation between the two sets of parents and the one son that they share by blood and by nurture is a paralyzing situation that will chill every parent, any child.

Before reading the story, I first saw Return to Haifa (possibly a translation difference of the title?) on the stage at Theater J (one of the nation’s leading Jewish theaters) in a traveling Hebrew-language production originated by Israel’s Cameri Theatre. Talk about crossing boundaries on many, many levels! Both theater production and novella-on-the-page are startling experiences, both highly recommended.

Ghassan Kanafani was a national hero, a literary and political leader whose life was cut short by violence; his “booby-trapped car exploded,” killing 36-year-old Kanafani and his young niece in 1972. His tragic personal history is certainly as engrossing (and wrenching) as any of his fiction. With the exception of Haifa, the other stories in this collection – though possibly dampened in translation – provide an unflinching view of threatened, struggling lives on the other side of a troubled border. The Palestinian voice has too often been lost on the page, on shelves, in the media. This collection in English, complete with extended biography and historical context, provides necessary access towards illuminating the turmoil in a still-uncertain Middle East.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2000 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Short Stories, .Translation, Palestinian

Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

On this eve of 9/11, I’m in a frustrated funk. Regardless of political, religious, cultural, or ethnic affiliations, I think most Americans are shaking their heads at the state of the world, and definitely not shaking enough hands; not enough of us have  been able to turn away from watching an endless loop of the falling Towers all over again and again and again.

Indeed, this week’s intolerance has been overwhelming: the latest issue of Time magazine arrived in our mailbox with a cover screaming “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace” [uh ... happy Rosh Hashanah??!!]; the Ground Zero Mosque controversy has hit every media outlet (although thankfully a diverse coalition of young people are finding Common Ground and offering an alternative sanity); and then there’s Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida with his incendiary threats … which, ironically, is fueling debates on the ‘correct’ way to spell Koran, Quran, Qur’an. That’s just a few of the headlines this week …

While I don’t mean to use Joe Sacco’s eye-opening, heart-breaking work as a pulpit, I think his Footnotes in Gaza is an apt post for today. Sacco – born in Malta, currently living in Oregon when he’s not traveling, internationally recognized as one of the world’s finest cartoonists ever, best known for his American Book Award-winning Palestine – has built his career documenting death and destruction throughout the world. His is today’s real world of intolerance …

Sent on a Harper’s magazine assignment to the Gaza Strip in 2001 to “focus on how Palestinians in one town – Khan Younis – were coping during the early months of the Second Intifada against the Israeli occupation,” Sacco and his journalist partner uncovered “seemingly the greatest massacre of Palestinian on Palestinian soil.” Their  November 1956 discovery was cut by the magazine’s editors, which Sacco found rightfully “galling.”

What had previously been relegated to mere footnotes in various reports gets full attention in Sacco’s latest title. As Sacco concurs with one of his interviewees, such events relegated to obscurity prove more important than ever as “they often contain the seeds of the grief and anger that shape present-day events.” Truth hurts.

Between November 2002 and March 2003, Sacco traveled back to Khan Younis and the neighboring town of Rafah, where “a couple of sentences in a U.N. report” led him to another related tragedy of scores of murders. His search for further information about both events is as much of the story here, as he works desperately to recreate the bloody events of November 1956 using eyewitness testimony, official U.N. documents, obscure newspaper reports, even paying two Israeli researchers to go through archives buried deep in the Israeli Defense Force’s military coffers. While details might differ over half a century later, the overall account of events concur: Innocent Palestinian men were shot dead by Israeli soldiers – massacre or mistake will depend on whose ‘side’ you’re on.

Sacco gravely reminds us that while he was immersed in the bloody events of 1956, “Israeli attacks were killing Palestinians, suicide bombers were killing Israelis, and elsewhere in the Middle East the United States was gearing up for war in Iraq.” Meanwhile, contemporary Khan Younis and Rafah remain fighting ground, constantly caught between a vicious cycle of destruction and reclamation from the rubble. Sacco himself becomes his prime eyewitness as his companions and friends vigilantly, selflessly keep him out of the line of neverending fire.

Tomorrow marks the 9th anniversary of 9/11. What will you do?

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Israeli, Palestinian

Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp by Trish Marx, photographs by Cindy Karp

Too often, media headlines are filled with Arab/Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli conflict and tragedy. Here’s a resonating anecdote filled with images of real-life kids from both sides of the religious/political/historical borders, enjoying a real-life camp where “… they will have the chance to meet and come together – not as enemies, but as campers, as children, and maybe as friends.”

Alya lives in the Arab village of Meiser in north-central Israel; she and her Muslim family are Israeli Palestinians. Yuval, a young Jewish boy, lives in the Jewish community of Maor just a short distance from Meiser. “Alya and Yuval are like children who go to camp anywhere. But in other important ways they are different. They are from two separate ethnic and religious groups who share the same land but who have been in conflict for the past one hundred years.”

For two weeks, children “who live in the midst of this ongoing conflict” will gather at Menashe Summer Peace Camp, sponsored by Givat Haviva, an educational organization that promotes Jewish-Arab Peace. “[N]o matter what language he or she speaks – [everybody] just calls it Peace Camp.” Friendship is hoped for, but the one thing all the children will learn is to respect each another.

Based on writer Trish Marx‘s visit to Peace Camp in 2005, this inspiring title alternates between glimpses of both Alya and Yuval’s everyday lives at home with their families, with key elements of their shared Palestinian/Israeli history, and most importantly their experiences at Peace Camp. In addition to the expected swimming, special crafts, and sleepovers, Peace Campers have some uniquely (surprising!) shared events, including an emergency rescue re-enactment complete with police, ambulance, and bomb squad in attendance!

Such is the children’s reality today … but a future of hopeful change is certainly in their hands: “In a country filled with tension and conflict, the campers have learned to take the first steps toward sharing their ancient homeland. And it happens every year, year after year, at Peace Camp.” Now if only we could get the adults – especially the so-called leaders – to spend a few weeks learning with/from the children …

Readers: Children, Middle Grade

Published: 2010

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, ..Middle Grade Readers, .Nonfiction, Arab, Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian

The Shepherd’s Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter

Last week, this article landed in my inbox: “Jewish Group Boycotts Canadian Kids’ Book.”  The comments are also well worth reading. Then a friend sent me another related article which announced, “Controversial Mideast book stays in Toronto schools.” The running quote box on the left side is not to be missed …

Book banning/boycotting always frightens and fascinates me. So of course I had to read the book in question, especially a title that has been honored in eight award programs, including the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children. No small recognition there! Not to mention a portion of the book’s royalties gets donated to the Children in Crisis Fund of IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People.

The story is haunting and inspiring both; it’s also just a really good book. At age 6, Amani, the youngest daughter in her extended Palestinian family, already knows exactly what she wants … to be a shepherd just like her grandfather, and continue the thousand-years-plus family shepherding tradition. In a world of cell phones and email, Amani is almost an anachronism, but she’s also a tenacious child who learns quickly and establishes a touching relationship with the well-tended flock.

In spite of her family’s protestations, her grandfather – elderly, but still the head of the family – agrees to take her on as his apprentice. Under his loving guidance, Amani becomes an expert shepherd, and carries on even after the beloved patriarch passes away. Initially homeschooled by siblings and cousins, Amani – who also proves to be one smart student – does get to high school, determined to learn English, which she realizes she must speak in her quickly-changing world. Most disturbing and dangerous of all, a Jewish settlement is quickly encroaching upon the family lands. Violent conflict proves inevitable and Amani’s family can never be the same again.

Author Carter opens her book with “This novel is a fictional rendering of a complex situation,” an understatement at best. The destructive history of the Middle East seems both timeless and neverending. Politicians, soldiers, theorists, religious leaders, students, mothers, artists, peacemakers, every day people everywhere have tried to find a solution … one has to believe that peace is inevitable in the future …

Should this book be banned? No. Is this book controversial? Yes. Can it be used to start dialogue? Absolutely. Toronto School Board Executive Director of Equity, Lloyd McKell is quoted in the parentcentral.ca article mentioned above, “… this book can certainly be used to explore issues of bias and prejudice, and that students can learn from such exploration…”

By book’s close, much to her family’s initial dismay, Amani’s calls for outside help are to her father’s friend, a Jewish rabbi, who brings along a determined Jewish lawyer. Meanwhile, Amani and the teenage son of one of the Jewish settlers’ leaders become promising friends. The message – at least here – is clear: The children will be the ones to find and make that peace.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2008

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Canadian, Jewish, Middle Eastern, Palestinian

Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story by Ari Folman and David Polonsky

Waltz with BashirNo, I have not seen the film version of this title. The book is brutal enough on flat pages. I think moving pictures just might send me over the edge. That said, this riveting, nightmarish title should be required reading for anyone contemplating going to war, planning war, starting a war, or even just thinking about war … as important as patriotism and serving one’s country is, war should never be an option. While the subtitle makes this book 1982 Lebanon War-specific, the clear, screaming message from its pages is that this could be any war story, and the results would be equally futile and devastating.

Author Ari Folman meets an old friend Boaz for drinks in 2006, who tells Folman about his recurring violent dream that has its origins in the 1982 Lebanon War. Boaz questions Folman about Folman’s own memories of that terrible time, but Folman can remember nothing: “It’s not in my system. No, there’s nothing,” he says. Leaving his friend, Folman has a flashback for the first time in 20 years “from the night of the massacre … in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.”

Piece by piece, memory by memory, Folman questions friends, colleagues, and experts to painfully and exhaustively help him remember his part in the events of the Lebanon War and ultimately arrives at the massacre at two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Sabra and Shatila. “Against your will, you were cast in the role of Nazi,” Folman’s best friend Ori tells him. “It’s not that you weren’t there, you were. … But you didn’t carry out the massacre.” Still, Folman’s feelings of guilt-by-association blocked his memories for two long decades.

Folman, together with the film’s art director/chief illustrator David Polonsky, recreates the senselessness of war, regardless of whose ‘side’ you are on. “I don’t know who we’re shooting at. We’re just firing like madmen till nightfall,” Folman recalls of a violent encounter. “We were kind of unaware of a lot that was going on,” he comments about another experience. He’s shocked when a pant-less officer, distractedly watching pornography in an opulent villa taken over by Folman’s Israeli unit, orders Folman to blow up every red Mercedes because of a “hot tip” that a red Mercedes was going to explode on Folman’s men.

With a sense of distanced shock, Folman and Polonsky capture the utter wasted inhumanity of war, ending the book’s final pages with sheer carnage. The illustrated images of Folman’s memories literally become the actual photographs of bloody, twisted, mangled corpses … with the very last image of an old woman, holding her face, her eyes tightly shut in a silent scream of complete devastation. How much clearer can the message be? … War is never ever the answer.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian