Bulletpoint Review: Footnotes In Gaza

Posted by on January 23rd, 2010 at 5:32 AM

A few quick thoughts on one of the major releases of 2009, Joe Sacco’s FOOTNOTES IN GAZA.

* This is certainly the most accomplished book of Sacco’s career in terms of ambition and his sheer drawing skill, but it didn’t quite have the same impact as SAFE AREA GORAZDE.  Part of that was intentional on Sacco’s part: the story of Gorazde is such a series of highs and lows, sprinkled with hope, that it was hard not to get caught up in it.  In Gaza, it’s same as it ever was.  However, Sacco pretty much duplicates the structure of SAFE AREA GORAZDE in FOOTNOTES IN GAZA: start with a light anecdote, move into interviews, and then slowly build up to a harrowing climax.  While FOOTNOTES is an incredibly accomplished work, it simply didn’t feel quite as revelatory or original as SAFE.

* Of course, the obvious comparison is to Sacco’s PALESTINE.  That was the work of an artist trying to stretch his boundaries but not knowing quite how to do so.  The R.Crumb influence is much more in evidence in PALESTINE, but the problem with the book was both the structure (it bogged down in many places, something that didn’t happen with FOOTNOTES or SAFE) and Sacco’s own role as narrator.  Sacco was perhaps a bit wide-eyed and naive as a narrator in PALESTINE, but he paints himself very differently in FOOTNOTES.  Here, there’s almost a ruthlessness in the way he went about obtaining interviews.  He was interested in one very specific (but mostly forgotten) tragedy, and didn’t have the time or patience to sit through listening to old people ramble on about the wrong event.  Sacco almost paints himself as a villain or at least exploiter of sorts, trying to construct a picture of what happened on a day whose official record was sketchily kept at best.

* There’s a scrupulousness to Sacco’s research that’s remarkable.  While it’s obvious as to where his sympathies lie, this book really isn’t an attack on Israel.  Indeed, he received help from several Israeli scholars and a former military aide to Israeli leader Moshe Dayan.  There’s a memorable section where Sacco recounts a speech from Dayan where he talks about how the Palestinians are justified in their anger, but it reached a point where it was them or us.  Sacco clearly has a degree of sympathy for this point of view, which I think is one reason why he doesn’t support terrorism but understands the mindset behind it.

* Interestingly, Sacco questions terrorism not from a moral standpoint but a practical one, asking his friends what they hope to accomplish with Hamas’ tactics and rhetoric.  He’s hinting that this sort of activity led to a permanent state of emergency, one where the apparatus of the state (in this case Israel) had carte blanche in exercising brutally repressive and paranoid measures against an entire citizenry.

* One running theme of the book is the feeling of the breakdown of Arab community and camaraderie.  The Palestinians were used as tools of Egypt (which helped lead to the brutality in Rafah that Sacco details), but the ways in which they lost faith in their leaders seemed to pervade each character’s demeanor.  This is an abjected people, abandoned and thrown down.  Worse, the constant chaos started to work to destroy their sense of history.

* Ultimately, what Sacco accomplished here was literally fleshing out one day of violence, getting as many different voices as possible to construct a single narrative.  The narrative was Sacco’s attempt at demonstrating the ways in which cycles repeat themselves and how quickly life loses meaning in situations like this.  If the first casualty of war is the truth, Sacco labors to rectify that situation and bring the truth shambling to life in patchwork fashion.  There’s no moral high ground to be claimed here, only desperate groups of people trying to live their lives and growing ever more desperate.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “Bulletpoint Review: Footnotes In Gaza

  1. siegfriedsasso says:

    It’s about time TCJ reviewed this book. I was wondering what was taking so long. Can we expect a more in depth review sometime in the future?

  2. Kristy Valenti says:

    Yes. Deep. Very deep.