Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Books: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City


Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
By Guy Delisle

Available now from Islington Libraries
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Right. Ok.

There's this trend of - I don't really know what to quite call it - ("blank reporting" maybe?) - that seems to have become the dominant  mode of journalism over the past decade or so. The two best examples I can think of would be Jon Ronson and Louis Theroux (and please don't get me wrong - I love Jon Ronson and Louis Theroux): where the aim of the game is merely to catalogue whatever strange weirdness the world can throw up: be it conspiracy theorists or right wing extremists or whatever - and the reporter is just there to document and get it all down on film (and maybe ask one or two questions here or there in order to clarify some of the finer points ("And you think who is the Anti-Christ exactly?" "Right. Ok."etc)). It's all fair and balanced and being neutral and not taking sides and being "objective."

Only - as entertaining as that can be - (and to be fair: it does mean that the journalists who practice it get a lot more access to the intricacies of whatever thing it is that they're talking about than more outwardly opinionated journalists would be able to secure: so there is that - yeah ok) it does mean that the people doing the reporting lack (for my palate at least) the requisite ammount of belly fire [1] that I feel is needed. Maybe this is giving away too much of my own personality: but when faced with some-sort of monstrous injustice then I like my men or women in the field to at least have the common courtesy to get a little bit indignant (no? Or is this just me?).

I mean - yeah - the real world is often needlessly complicated and muddled up and twisted around: a lot of the time if you want to be "objective" and report the facts then - well: (in some cases at least - because like I said (and like you should already have figured out on your own): life is complicated) that kinda means that (after you review all the available evidence and etc) you need to choose a side [2]. And - just sitting in the middle and sitting on the fence and going "well - you know: a little from column A, a little from column B" doesn't magically place you above the crowd: more like it means that you need to think things over a little more. At least - that's my opinion.

But then again: maybe I'm making that classic mistake (that critics make all the time): of being given a milkshake and complaining that it's not a burger? Because - yeah: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is not a book all that concerned with giving the reader real political insight or the over-view of the history of the conflict or any of that kind of stuff - nah - like it says in the title this is a chronicle [3] - a report of life as it is on the ground: and what day-to-day life is like for a hapless cartoonist trying to balance his family life with the demands of an artist (which mainly seems to involve finding a good place to do some sketches). And expecting anything more - well - it's like he says himself at one point: "Maybe they've got me mixed up with Joe Sacco?"

And once you settle in and allow the book to work it's magic - well: there's lots to enjoy here and plenty of interesting sights to see along the way: from the signs on the wall  (I didn't realise that signs could sound snooty until I read: "Groups passing through our neighborhood severely offend the residents. Please. Stop this." - I mean - really?) to the local groups and the way that they can cut across the grain in interesting ways  ("Some ultra-orthodox Jews reject Zionism. They believe the messiah will come and restore the promised land to the chosen people. Not vice versa.") and the way to the - frankly bizarre - things that religion will make people do (good example of this include: an ice cream seller refusing to give children ice cream cones and whole bit about the search for a red heifers and how it relates to the End Times that kinda blew my little mind [4]). But I guess the thing that kept me reading is that Guy Delisle is a pretty fun (and chilled out) guy to hang out with - and the Tom Gauld-like simplicity of the art means that (although it's quite a thick book) it's real easy to breeze through the pages.

And then - yeah: there are the bits where he kinda delivers the sledgehammer emotions by delivering some of the messed-up happenings of the region with calm and understated gentleness that just lets the facts speak for themselves [5] which comes across clearest where he contrasts the image of him walking along a typical city street with the following narration:"This is the spot where a bulldozer ploughed into the crowd last July. A Palestinian from East Jerusalem was at the wheel  He overturned a city bus and smashed several cars before he was stopped. A civilian managed to climb into the bulldozer and shoot the driver at point blank range. 3 people were killed and forty-six injured."

I mean - yeah - this is a book that's all about the quotidian [6]: but as the book makes clear Jerusalem is a place where what passes for normal is very different to elsewhere. Thankfully tho - (no disrespect intended to it's tourist board or anything like that) Guy Delisle makes it so you don't have to go all the way around the world to get a taste of what it's like.

[1] "So, he has fire in the belly! But it will take more than belly fire to be the next Baryshnikov."

[2] The best (and simplest) example of this that I've seen recently would be this blog post on Desmogblog: Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility - In One Pie Chart (which I'd say - wins the star prize for best single image refutation of an argument ever).

[3] As it says on the free dictionary website: "An extended account in prose or verse of historical events, sometimes including legendary material, presented in chronological order and without authorial interpretation or comment."

[4] If you're not going to read the book then you can read about it here.

[5] Although - I guess that what you think that those facts are sayings all depends on where your sympathies lie. But yeah.

[6] Yeah - I'm showing off and breaking out the long words: but for some reason (maybe it says it in the book itself?) I wrote down "quotidian" in my notes when I was reading it - so I thought that maybe it would be good to work it in somewhere: if you don't know what it means - well: it's a fancy way of saying "everyday" or "commonplace." So yeah.

Links: New Statesmen Review, Cartoon Movement Review, Wiseman of Chelm Review, Slant Magazine Review, Look Back to Galilee Review, PopMatters Review.

Further reading: Palestine, Footnotes in Gaza, I'm Never Coming BackGoliathWaltz with Bashir, The Arrival, The PhotographerPersepolisThe Rabbi's Cat, HabibiBlue Pills.

All comments welcome.

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