Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Jerusalem A Family Portrait

In the same shipment that I received Relish by Lucy Knisley, I also received Jerusalem: A Family Portrait by Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi. (First Second, will publish 4/16/13, 381 pages).

Bottom Line: While this will most likely not be a classic graphic novel, it is a very noteworthy graphic novel. It's an important story, but more than that it is a well told story. As such it is worthy of a place in medium sized and larger public libraries that maintain an adult graphic novel collection. It will appeal to history/historical fiction fans and family relationship GN fans. (Spiegelman, Bechdel, etc.)

Confession: I don't know much about the history of Israel/Palestine in the time period covered by this book (1940-1948). Fortunately the author includes an introduction to both the historical context, the city of Jerusalem, and the families portrayed. This was invaluable to me and I flipped back to it numerous times.

Unfortunately the reason I kept flipping back to the family tree is I had trouble keeping two of the brothers straight. Additionally several side characters were introduced with so little fanfare that when they reappeared, I had forgotten them and had to refresh my memory. The jumbling of characters (there were a lot of characters) is my main complaint about this book.

The artwork is spot on (other than the two brothers I couldn't tell apart). The black and white palette and harsh lines are perfect for a city at war. Primarily told through smaller (6 to a page) panels, this book packs a lot of action into it's pages, but does occasionally go to larger panels for dramatic impact. Excellently done entirely with the artwork. Text and artwork complement each other nicely.

The story is doubly fascinating, both the story of a time of extreme unrest in an unstable region and that of the two families trying to survive in it. Other than popping over to a few wikipedia entries (which I always do because I'm rather a nerd), I was completely engrossed in this book. I read the entire thing in two settings. I would have liked an author's note comparing the fiction of the family to his real family, but without one I presume the family story is primarily fictional. That makes it no less compelling a read.

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