What’s the deal with that place, anyway: How to understand Israel in 206 pages or less

The Israeli-Palestinian situation is confusing from the outside and it seems just as complicated from the inside. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden is about her Birthright Isreal trip — I am a little jealous that only Jews get free trips to Israel. For Glidden the situation is complex and emotional. She feels ties to it as a result of her religious background and family members who live there, but also has strong pro-Palestinian feelings. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less follows her emotions as she goes through the country and tries to decide how she feels.

Glidden’s narrative is compelling and entertaining. This has all the elements of a good travelogue. It has ups and down, sites seen, and with the added bonus of a uncertain personal relationship to the place being visited.

“Well I didn’t get ‘flagged’ but he did make me think about junior high school. I think that may be worse.”

You get a feel for her personality and the emotional roller coaster of the trip. She wants so badly to understand the situation and did thorough research before the trip — if you are looking for a good background read Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert is excellent and at nearly a thousand pages it gives you lots of information. However, the actual experience of Israel and the Birthright tour, which she is highly suspicious of, is another side to it.

“Much of Israel is disappointed in us for following in the footsteps of other kibbutzim that have given up the old way of life, but they are just nostalgic for another Israel that exists in the past and which they were never a part of. For us, this is real life.”

Glidden is a talented illustrator and her drawings/watercolours are beautiful. The book is worth reading for these alone. Her illustrations are like those of A Year in Japan by Kate Williamson. Like any good graphic novel the images are a part of the story and not only that they make it better. The words and images combine to tell a story that Will Eisner would be proud of.

In the end the conclusion is she doesn’t know exactly how to feel, or in other words it’s complicated. Often times the more you learn about a subject the less straightforward it is. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is a good first step for those wishing to see the complexity of the situation, have a more informed opinion, or just read a good graphic novel.



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