Review: Palestine – Joe Sacco

Read: 20
To Go: 80

Book List
11. The Conversations – Michael Ondaatje
12. The Birth House – Ami McKay
13. Essex County – Jeff Lemire
14. Mary-Anne Saves The Day – Ann M. Martin
15. The Werewolf of Fever Swamp – R.L. Stine
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
17. The High Road  Terry Fallis
18. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You – Peter Cameron
19. Ominous – Kate Brian
20. Palestine – Joe Sacco

Going into reading my second graphic novel, I half expected it to be a quicky read based on reading Essex County, which I was able to finish within hours. Joe Sacco’s Palestine, however, was a much longer read.

Palestine follows “Joe,” a caricature of Sacco, during the two months he spends in Palestine on a work visa, from late 1991 to early 1992. In that time he makes it his mission to get the real story from Palestinians, the story that most Westerners don’t see, because all they hear is the Israeli perspective.

The idea itself is novel; fantastic, even. The fact that he’s made tangible an experience that isn’t easily accessible for most people, by putting it into graphic novel format, is fantastic — visualizing a struggling Arab nation becomes much more possible.

However, you’ll be lucky if you actually glimpse the pictures while you’re struggling through the mass of text.

While Palestine was informative – in order to effectively do what he wanted to do, Sacco had to include a lot of historical information on Israeli-Palestinian clashes – it was a little too dense for a graphic novel. More often than not I found the text overwhelmed the page in a way that detracted from Sacco’s considerable artistic talents; the pictures were incredibly detailed, but I was so busy following the words that, unless I really stopped reading, I didn’t pay attention to them.

A picture tells a thousand words; assumedly, you don’t need to accompany said picture with the thousand words it’s supposed to communicate, and that’s where Sacco went wrong.

However, I liked that he made Joe a mostly unlikeable character. He was often seen as rude, unthinking, selfish, and greedy, and, because of that, debunked this cultural myth of journalists being heros. Joe’s role was also to highlight the Western mentality of seeing other countries (Palestine being one of them) as uncivilized and even a little barbaric despite the fact that we are often the uncivilized ones (i.e. when Joe sat down to a meal with a very poor Palestinian family, and ate them out of house and home without thinking about it).

For the most part, I didn’t enjoy Palestine; it was a little too dense, regardless of subject matter, and eventually everything starts to get repetitive (which is not to downplay the sufferings of a nation and the squalor in which they’re forced to live). However, it did one thing that the media has failed to do: cover a point of view that needs to be heard. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, and all that jazz (to be cliche).

Next book: Water For Elephants – Sara Gruen

– Kelsey


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