The city of Jerusalem is a lot like a family. It is complex, beautiful, and full of tangled relationships which color every conversation and decision. The new graphic novel, Jerusalem, places the struggle for an independent Israeli state in the context of a fractured family whose politics and history impact multiple generations.
The fulcrum of the story is Motti. He is the youngest son of Izak who is at war with his brother, Yakov. (If you feel you may need a scorecard, don’t worry, a handy illustrated family tree is provided at the start of the book). Motti struggles to understand why his father and uncle do not like each other, forcing him to navigate a complicated gauntlet of family interactions. Nirroring the family turmoil is the confusing status of Israel as it struggles for an identity . Like the family issues, Motti understands some of what is going on, but much of it is lost on him.
For the reader, this could easily be confusing as well. However, Motti’s older brothers, David, Avraham, and Ezra, are more closely engaged in the political happenings of the time, and their trials and tribulations fill in many of the gaps for the reader. While they may explain what is happening, more importantly they show the painful fractures which develop within the family as political ideologies force family members to choose sides. Motti helplessly watches as internal and external forces tears his beloved family apart.
Motti’s only real friend is his cousin, Jonathan. Their friendship is hampered by the strained relations of their parents. They try valiantly to hold on to their friendship, but the politics of both family and country seem to consort against them.
The struggle for Israeli independence, coupled with the complex history of the multiple people who have lived on and controlled the land, make the entire topic seem overwhelming. But by bringing everything down to a personal level, and focusing on a particular moment in time, Boaz Yakin has created an access point. He does not take a particular side in the argument. Instead he shows that there is plenty of blame to go around, and plenty of opportunities to heal old wounds.
The art by Nick Bertozzi is clean and clear. With so many characters to juggle, as well as the hustle and bustle of daily life, toss in the chaos of wartime, and Jerusalem could have been an impenetrable mess. However, Bertozzi’s attention to facial details, as well as careful page and panel layouts make Jerusalem a deceptively easy read.
Bertozzi’s faces sell the story more than anything else. The stress and sense of uncertainty about the future is evident on every face of every character. As the story progresses, angry faces turn to worried faces. Worried faces turn to desperate faces. And desperation all too often turns to anguish. Even without words, the challenging and tragic history of Israel and Jerusalem are apparent on the faces of the families who live there.
Jerusalem by Yakin and Bertozzi is a striking counterpoint to that other Jerusalem book by Guy Delisle. Delisle’s book looks at a year in the life of an outsider living in Jerusalem. But the Jerusalem Delisle inhabits is far beyond that which anyone in Yakin and Bertozzi’s book could ever imagine. But, below the surface, removing the distance of time, the stories and faces, the families and the complex intertwined relationships remain. These two Jerusalems would make striking neighbors.
Jerusalem by Yakin and Bertozzi is available now from First Second.