Jerusalem by Guy Delisle

Delisle’s book chronicles the year he spent living in the Holy City, specifically the Palestinian area known as East Jerusalem, with his wife and two children after his wife was posted in the West Bank by Doctors Without Borders (referred to by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, and initials, MFA, in the text). His travelogue provides an account of the major events of the year – namely Operation Cast Lead, a three-week armed conflict between Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Israel that left 13 Israelis (4 by “friendly fire”) and 1,417 Palestinians dead – intermixed with the more understated struggle of finding a cool playground for his children and a few moments on uninterrupted to peace to get some work done while being a stay-at-home dad.

He spends quite a bit of time trying to explore as much as Jerusalem as possible and, as a nonbeliever, expresses curiosity about the claims of the three Abrahamic faiths on this piece of land in a rather self-mocking kind of way. He tries multiple times to visit the Dome of the Rock, the most famous Islamic site in Jerusalem; engages in a series of conversations with Christian leader whilst setting up a studio in the church’s storage room; and visits both the Western Wall and take a tour of a Jewish settlement to try to understand the Jewish/Israeli perspective. Yet, despite his curiosity, he confesses in the end that it is so much more enjoyable to visit the beach or the zoo, instead.

He makes a few blunders here and there with his behavior – some of which was intentional (i.e. driving through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood during Shabbos) while some seemed to be accidental (i.e. presuming he can retrieve non-Kosher food from behind the curtain during Passover) – and he does have opinions about the differential treatment on non-Jews in the city. Yet other than an obsession with seeing the wall dividing Israel from the West Bank and the decision to refer to Passover as “Jewish Easter”, much of these opinions appear to be a result of the treatment he experienced firsthand as a resident of East Jerusalem – the lack of trash collection, the netting over walkways to prevent Israeli settlers from throwing things at the Palestinian residents, the refusal of taxi drivers to service the non-Jewish quarters, and the unequal distribution of water between Palestinians and the settlers.

For the most part, he manages to present these differences and the ethical dilemmas they pose through rather mundane aspects of family life – taking your kids to the playground or making a trip to the grocery store. The shop nearest his home carries none of the processed foods he and his children love, and he is surprised to find these products available in the grocery store located in the nearest settlement. He is tempted to purchase the items and the other food products being offered a lower price than his local store but walks away when he remembers the council of his friends that he should never, ever economically support the settlers.

Yet on his way out the door he spied Palestinian/Muslim women (it is unclear which) piling into a minibus with purchases from these same shops and is thrown for a bit of a loop because if anyone should have strong feelings about not supporting the settlers, he presumes it should be Muslim women. What he leaves unsaid in these panels, though, is how unjust it is that these women are put in a position where they must economically support the seizure of Palestinian land to save money or purchase goods not available to them. The reader is left to make their own conclusions in this situation and in many more throughout the book, which is a structure I appreciated.

To be completely honest, the only aspect of this entire book I really struggled through as I read it was just how often Delisle complained about being alone with his children. While I can understand being frustrated over being the primary caregiver for weeks at time while his wife was away, I could not help but think that Delisle’s children will likely read this book when they get older and feel the constant resentment their father seems to have for them.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Delisle, Guy. Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City. Translated from French. Montréal, Canada: Drawn and Quarterly, 2012. Originally published 2008. Print. 336 pgs. ISBN: 9781770460713. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Drawn and Quarterly. Retrieved: November 24, 2014.
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4 thoughts on “Jerusalem by Guy Delisle

  1. I have this one out from the library but didn’t get to it. Try to squeeze it in?? Incidentally, I did read The Photographer (graphic memoir) which is about MFA doctors in Afghanistan in the 80s.

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    1. Huh, I’ll have to see if I can find a copy of The Photographer. Sounds right up my alley. I read this one pretty quickly so you might be able to squeeze it in, but I’m also almost a week late replying to your comment so you probably already had to return it.

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