How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

Vertigo  2010

Sarah Glidden is the perfect travel companion for a trip to Israel, or anywhere else for that matter. She is friendly, curious, articulate, and a terrific artist to boot. In panel after panel of captivating illustrations, readers accompany Glidden on her first trip to Israel, with a Birthright group. She is prepared to hate Israel and the Israelis for their part in the Palestinian issue, and she’s ready to label everything she hears and sees as “Birthright propaganda.” Many times over, she is forced to reconsider her preconceived ideas, and she is surprised by what she sees and the people she meets. Israel tugs at her heart, and when she feels an unexpected connection to the land and the people, her emotions are palpable to readers.

Travel memoirs can be formulaic: the author goes on a trip, has new experiences, feels unexpected emotions, and then arrives home a changed person. Glidden shakes things up, and delivers a travelogue that is anything but standard. In a unique and entertaining twist, Glidden depicts herself playing judge, jury, lawyer, defendant, and bailiff in the trial “Birthright is trying to brainwash me vs. Birthright is actually pretty reasonable.” This mock trial of her conscience offers a fascinating way for readers to visually peer into the author’s thought process. Glidden also plays with time, bringing famous people from history into the present to carry on conversations with her. For example, she walks the Negev desert with David Ben-Gurion, and she visits with kibbutz pioneers who are depicted in a painting. Along the way her real companions, such as her friend Melissa and their Israeli tour guide Gil, provide Glidden with steadfast emotional support as she makes her life-changing journey. Going to Israel? Pack this compelling and inspiring memoir along with your guidebooks and sunscreen. You won’t regret Sarah Glidden’s company on your trip. Bibliography, glossary, timeline.


JBC Book Clubs Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think Sarah's character was sympathetic and/or empathetic? Were there times when you felt more or less sympathetic toward her or identified with her more or less?

  2. There are a few instances where Sarah uses more imaginative scenes to illustrate her own thoughts (putting Birthright on trial on p. 28 and 107, the historical scenes on p 87, etc.). Did those enhance your reading or did you prefer the more straightforward and realistic parts of the story?

  3. Sarah wrote these comics after her trip was over, yet has to go back to show her thoughts from the beginning of the trip. How do you think she portrayed her earlier self? In an interview with The Washington Post, she says that she's "forgiving of [Sarah] as a character in the third person.”. Do you agree or do you think there's some judgement against her initial approach to Israel and Birthright?

  4. Sarah reacts to a Free Tibet rally (p 86) in Israel, but then realizes that everyone, regardless of their nationality or political leanings, has a right to criticize the violations of others. Do you agree?

  5. Sarah's cousin accuses her of having a "Birthright glow" (p 93). Do you think that this is true or just that her perspective is changing with new experiences and information?

  6. What do you think causes Sarah's emotional breakdown after Independence Hall? Does her outlook change after that or is her shift more gradual?

  7. Sarah is very vigilant for any agenda or propaganda from the speakers to her Birthright trip. Aside from the Golan movie, where do you think the line is drawn? What's the difference between a speaker having an agenda or just sharing their own perspective?

  8. At the end, Sarah realizes that Nadan is right that they don't need to agree on everything—something that is at the heart of most political exchanges. Why do you think she was trying so hard to convince him of her way of thinking?

  9. If the book continued another few pages, how do you think Sarah would answer the questions of the other travelers at the hostel?

  10. Do you think the format of a graphic novel is more or less effective for a memoir than for a fictional account? How is it different than a memoir written in prose?

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