Saturday, April 20, 2013

Jerusalem: A Family Portrait

Jerusalem is an impressive graphic novel both in size and scope. It is set from 1940 to 1948, a time when the Jewish nation of Israel was being constituted. The main plot follows the Halaby family. Two brothers, Isak and Yakov have a long standing conflict of Biblical proportions and there is also financial drama between them. This conflict between Isak, a candy peddler, and his affluent brother devolves into debts, slights, and legal actions. This strife also affects their spouses and children, all of whom are trying to coexist in some manner.

Layered into that family drama are the political happenings of the day, and this book is as much about political machinations as it is familial ones. Complicating matters further, some family members are part of the anti-British and French occupation movements. We are privy to some of the children, especially Isak's defiantly outspoken son Motti, pushing back against the indoctrination happening in the schools. The older children are embroiled in various military forces and actions, and they are often divided along political lines. These conflicts are depicted in human and affecting ways, but the story is also chock full of historical information, and I felt that I was enlightened much more about the origins of Israel of a country.

Also, it is worth mentioning that this story does not shy away from the brutality and horrors of war, and is stunningly graphic concerning destruction and death. The art is not over the top regarding these depictions, and I think that the violence of war juxtaposed well with the emotional violence that occurred between a number of the characters. Prisoners are not taken on many fronts in this book.

This book was a collaboration between writer Boaz Yakin, a screen writer who has also written the graphic novel Marathon, and Nick Bertozzi, a prolific graphic novelist interested in historical work. Among his works are the Harvey and Ignatz Award winning series Rubber Necker as well as the graphic novels The Salon, Lewis and Clark, and Houdini: The Handcuff King.  I felt that his moody, atmospheric grays and brand of cartoon realism made for some very effective and evocative scenes. His art style perfectly balances the emotional and factual needs of the narrative. For those interested more in the narrative, this interview with Yakin casts more light on Jerusalem's inception and creation.

In regard to its critical reception, Booklist gave this book a starred review, but most reviews I have seen appear more measured. Hillary Brown opined that it was "reasonably compelling with its dynamic politics and wide scope, even if it tries to pack too much in." Henry Chamberlain praised that it "provides a rich and dense texture to a narrative that invites a thorough reading." April called it "immensely readable," even if she was not a big fan of the artwork. I admit that this book does have a lot packed into it, but I felt in the end that that memorable characters, dramatic situations, and ambiguous, impactful conclusion made this a powerful work.

A preview, reviews, and more are available here from the book's publisher First Second.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

1 comment:

  1. "It’s a complex book, full of fascinating characters and powerful storytelling," says Greg Burgas. Read the read of his review here: