When Ari Folman was a nineteen-year old soldier in an Israeli combat unit, he was stationed in Beirut during the 1982 war with Lebanon. As his unit was securing two refugee camps, Christian militia members entered the camps and killed thousands of Palestinians. Folman repressed his memories of that night for more than twenty years, until a friend’s recurring nightmare stunned him into realizing the extent of his memory loss. Now a successful filmmaker in Tel Aviv, Folman embarks on a journey to fill in the gaping holes in his memory. With the help of friends and fellow soldiers, he follows a trail of flashbacks and reminiscences, until he gradually puts together a picture of his role in the war.
Simultaneously released as a movie and a book, Folman’s graphic novel has a dreamlike quality. The illustrations are both realistic and surrealistic; the backgrounds resemble photographs, while the action and main characters are depicted with bold colors and vivid expressions. The point of view switches between narrators as Folman’s fellow combatants struggle with memory and trauma. A recurring image of three soldiers emerging naked from a black sea hypnotically brings the reader closer and closer to a shocking ending, which serves to reinforce Folman’s message of the futility of war.
Wendy Wasman is the librarian & archivist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Cleveland, Ohio.