Thursday, October 5, 2023

Book Review: The Other Jerusalem by Michel Kichka

 Israel's left-leaning cartoonist Michel Kichka is coming up with his third graphic novel in October, and I received an advance copy from its publisher, Europe Comics, through Netgalley. The Other Jerusalem is an autobiographical work just like his previous two graphic novels, Second Generation, which deals with his relationship with his father, who is a Holocaust survivor, and Falafel With Sauce, which is about his life in Israel. I love them for the humane approach that Kichka adopts for dealing with even the most complex issues concerning politics, terrorism, and patriotism.

For his new work, Kichka opts for a more unorganised structure. The Other Jerusalem, though it contains an autobiographical undercurrent that binds everything together, feels more like a collection of essays, albeit in a graphical format. Even then, it is spellbinding in art as well as narration, as in his previous works. It serves as a gateway to Israel—its history, geography, culture, politics, and religion—while also letting the reader take a peek into the artistic process of Kichka.

The book has four chapters and an epilogue. The first chapter is set in March 2020, during the COVID lockdown. Kichka illustrates some beautiful landscapes of his neighbourhood and some common birds that frequently visit his household. Then he gives us a glimpse into his childhood and his artistic inspirations. The second chapter is about his evolution into an editorial cartoonist and his activism intended to ultimately bring peace to his land.

In the third chapter, he returns to the COVID situation and provides a glimpse of his academic life and that of the general public in those days. The fourth chapter deals with the political situation in Israel and explains how religion is trying to dictate the social and political lives of its citizens. The epilogue describes the writer's reactions to turning sixty and the life ahead. It ends on an optimistic note.

Like in his previous books, Michel Kichka is an artist who is very detailed in his frames. But surprisingly, you will not find them packed and crammed. There is a serene clarity that pervades his art, which is pleasing to the eye and the mind of the reader. Even the most disturbing images have a humane quality that makes his work endearing. He finds humour in the most unlikely of situations and conveys it to the reader convincingly. The Other Jerusalem is another triumph that underlines the need for sane and composed minds while discussing geopolitics and the importance of humanistic solutions for its problems.

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