Rutu Modan, Ishai Mishory (Trans­la­tor)

  • Review
By – October 28, 2021

Filled with intrigue, adven­ture, and humor, Tun­nels tells the sto­ry of an Israeli archae­o­log­i­cal dig whose par­tic­i­pants attempt to search for the bib­li­cal Ark of the Covenant; its mys­te­ri­ous where­abouts are cur­rent­ly unknown, but its mys­tique has giv­en rise to many lit­er­ary and cin­e­mat­ic imag­in­ings as inter­est­ed par­ties inten­sive­ly search for the cel­e­brat­ed artifact.

In graph­ic nov­el for­mat, with col­or pan­els filled with sly visu­al wit, and with a focus on an inci­sive explo­ration of human nature, Rutu Modan skew­ers many of the pre­ten­sions and pur­port­ed truths trum­pet­ed by archae­ol­o­gists, aca­d­e­mi­cians, antiq­ui­ties deal­ers, and col­lec­tors as she recounts the sto­ry of Nili Brosh, an archae­ol­o­gist attempt­ing to locate the ark. In part, she wants to do so to reha­bil­i­tate the rep­u­ta­tion of her elder­ly, infirm father, also an archae­ol­o­gist, who lost his bid for aca­d­e­m­ic tenure at the hands of an unscrupu­lous rival who hopes to gar­ner cred­it for the spec­tac­u­lar find. Nil­i’s son, amus­ing­ly named Doc­tor, a young child obsessed with com­put­er games who has his own hero­ic moment in the sto­ry, accom­pa­nies her as she search­es for the elu­sive ark. Her less-than-trust­wor­thy aca­d­e­m­ic broth­er, an antiq­ui­ties col­lec­tor whose acquis­i­tive streak is com­i­cal­ly extreme, a group of singing and danc­ing local Jews whose ide­al­ism is cyn­i­cal­ly exam­ined, an Arab smug­gler who is an old friend of Nil­i’s, and a red heifer whose ash­es are tra­di­tion­al­ly required to sanc­ti­fy the ark, are among the quirky and inter­est­ing drama­tis per­son­ae who help, hin­der, and oth­er­wise accom­pa­ny Nili on her mis­sion to dis­cov­er the hid­ing place of the ark.

Con­tro­ver­sial Israeli polit­i­cal issues of the day form the under­pin­ning of the sto­ry but, although they are vital to its under­stand­ing, pol­i­tics and soci­etal issues do not eclipse the adven­ture, the char­ac­ter­i­za­tions, or the spec­tac­u­lar art that is filled with facial expres­sions, inter­est­ing detail, and over­all charm. Some of the larg­er pan­els are so filled with action or with his­tor­i­cal res­o­nance that those pages seem to be self-con­tained sto­ries of their own; one notable exam­ple is a page depict­ing the exile of the Jews to Baby­lon. In oth­er pan­els, a sense of the Israeli land­scape is palpable.

Inter­est­ing and unusu­al, this book presents graph­ic sto­ry­telling at its best.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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