Not the Israel My Par­ents Promised Me

Har­vey Pekar and JT Wald­man
  • Review
By – June 28, 2012

It’s fit­ting that Har­vey Pekar’s last two books, both pub­lished posthu­mous­ly, are paeans to the city that he loved. Not one to sug­ar­coat the truth, Pekar nev­er set out to make Cleve­land look bet­ter than it is. He nev­er claimed to be any­thing oth­er than a reg­u­lar guy try­ing to make ends meet in a reg­u­lar town. When the movie ver­sion of his com­ic Amer­i­can Splen­dor brought him recog­ni­tion, Pekar was still just a reg­u­lar guy con­tin­u­ing to do what he always did: write comics about being a reg­u­lar guy in a reg­u­lar town. Yet, under­neath the hang-dog expres­sion and slumped shoul­ders, Pekar was an amaz­ing­ly well-read man with a pas­sion for learn­ing and for shar­ing his knowl­edge through the under-appre­ci­at­ed medi­um of comics.

Both Cleve­land and Not the Israel My Par­ents Promised Me illu­mi­nate Pekar’s ear­ly years grow­ing up as the son of immi­grants in a racial­ly divid­ed city. Both books fea­ture sites that are famous in Pekar-land: favorite book­stores, restau­rants, neigh­bor­hoods, and libraries. Cleve­land inter­twines the his­to­ry of the city with the his­to­ry of Pekar and his fam­i­ly. It nev­er feels like a his­to­ry les­son; instead, it’s a con­ver­sa­tion between the read­er and author. For long-time Pekar fans, there’s not much new here, but that doesn’t mat­ter. Like a favorite fla­vor ice cream, you can eat it again and again and not get tired of it. Joseph Remnant’s art per­fect­ly cap­tures Pekar’s moods, and his views of the city are strik­ing­ly accu­rate. Each pan­el is an intri­cate work­ing of fine lines and details, and each deserves close study and appre­ci­a­tion.

As he does in Cleve­land, Pekar retraces the his­to­ry of the city in Not the Israel My Par­ents Promised Me, but this time he delves much deep­er into ques­tions of reli­gion, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, and the role of Israel in his family’s life. Over the course of a sin­gle day, Pekar shows artist JT Wald­man around town, all the while regal­ing him with a com­pre­hen­sive his­to­ry of Jews from bib­li­cal times to the present. Pekar’s par­ents were Zion­ists, and while Pekar respects their love of Israel, his own feel­ings toward Israel are more com­pli­cat­ed. In his usu­al cur­mud­geon­ly con­ver­sa­tion­al style, Pekar dis­plays his vast knowl­edge of his­to­ry and cul­ture. After spend­ing a day in his com­pa­ny, read­ers will hear his voice in their heads long after the last page. Waldman’s art has no equal; as in his stun­ning Megillat Esther (Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Soci­ety, 2006), he com­bines ele­ments of mythol­o­gy and fan­ta­sy, but his por­traits of the peo­ple in Pekar’s life are alive with spot-on accu­ra­cy.

Cleve­landers know about loss and heart­break. Local t‑shirts pro­claim: Cleveland…you’ve got to be tough.” Our sports teams don’t win cham­pi­onships. The sun doesn’t shine for months on end. When Har­vey Pekar died in the sum­mer of 2010, Cleve­landers lost a cham­pi­on. Yes, Har­vey Pekar loved Cleveland…and Cleve­land loved him back.

Wendy Was­man, Clevelander

Addi­tion­al Title Fea­tured in Review

Read JT Wald­man’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

My Pekar Years

Graph­ic Mem­oir: The Lega­cy of Har­vey Pekar

5 Comix about Israel Worth Reading

Wendy Was­man is the librar­i­an & archivist at the Cleve­land Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in Cleve­land, Ohio.

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