Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle, translated by Helge Dascher
Guy Delisle is a graphic genius who draws what he sees – simply and unadornedly – with droll, minimal commentary, and creates some of the most poignant, effective, resonating memoirs ever. French Canadian Delisle has undoubtedly found international fame as a traveling artist: he recreated his temporary assignments to faraway animation studios in Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China: A Journey and Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea; he’s turned his family’s foreign postings (a result of his partner/girlfriend/wife/mother of his children – her moniker varies, sometimes by the panel! – employment with Médecins San Frontières/Doctors Without Borders) into The Burma Chronicles and now this, his latest, Jerusalem.
From August 2008 to July 2009, Delisle, his partner Nadège, their two young children Louis and Alice, call East Jerusalem ‘home.’ Two days after arrival, an MSF employee stops by and provides an initial glimpse of the complicated, labyrinthine geography – literal, historical, cultural, religious – into which the family has landed: “This is the ‘east’ part of Jerusalem. It’s an Arab village that was annexed following the six-day war in ’67. … According to the Israeli government, we’re definitely in Israel, but for the international community, which doesn’t recognize the 1967 borders, we’re in the West Bank, which should become Palestine (if that day ever comes). … For the international community, [the capital of Israel is] Tel Aviv. That’s where the embassies are. But for Israel, it’s Jerusalem. The Parliament, or ‘Knesset,’ is here, not in Tel Aviv.” Delisle’s outward reaction is “Hmm … ok.” Silently, he admits, “I didn’t really get it, but I tell myself I’ve got a whole year to figure it out …” And thus begins a year of living surreally…
While Nadège works, Delisle takes care of the children, and works when he can, which includes explorations between shifting borders. His gleeful sense of discovery is contagious; his observations are priceless.
His first outing without the family is an invitation to accompany an Israeli women’s group to the separation wall (“I didn’t think it would be so high”) where he dons one of the organization’s vests for safety (“At Machsom Watch, we’re against the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. We’re calling for their freedom of movement in their own land and an end to the occupation, which is destroying Palestinian society and damaging our own”), where he buys pickles (“Let’s try the local delicacies”) amidst journalists, kevlar-helmeted photographers, soldiers taking posed pictures of each other (“You’d think it’s the Eiffel Tower or the Great Pyramids”), before taking cover from tear gas grenades, machine guns … and stones (“F**k me!”).
Suffice it to say that no one, no one, can capture that ‘you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up’-sense of reality like Delisle. Jerusalem is surely his best work thus far; it’s also thankfully his longest. To reveal anything more feels selfish … to share the contagion seems to be the nobler option. To quote Delisle at book’s end: “And that’s it, a year of good and faithful service.” Spread the word.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2012 (United States)