Sarah Glidden's graphic book memoir on Israel, reviewed by Lisa Bonos

Friday, November 12, 2010; 10:30 AM


By Sarah Glidden

Vertigo. 208 pp. $24.99


When Sarah Glidden embarks on a trip to Israel, she expects to return with a crystal-clear understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - without becoming "a brainwashed, raging Zionist." Throughout her whirlwind tour with Birthright, a program that takes young Jews on free trips to Israel, she's constantly concerned with countering any pro-Israel propaganda and getting an objective view of the country and its politics. But she quickly learns that nothing is black and white in the Holy Land.

In her travel-memoir-as-graphic book, "How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less," Glidden addresses the nuances and complexities of Israel's past and present through humor and history lessons in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and beyond. She manages to make a familiar journey fresh in this graphic format; her illustrations clearly resemble the real-life terrain. Balancing seriousness with sarcasm, she captures the idiosyncrasies of Israeli culture and ponders the difficult questions of how Israel might pursue a peaceful and secure future.

Any account from the tour bus - or the camel's hump - has its limits. Glidden tries hard to uncover the real Israel beyond the holy sites and nationalist narratives, but time, security constraints and the scripted nature of an organized trip rein in her lofty goals. As she leaves the Middle East with more questions than answers, her quest for a deeper understanding is clearly just beginning.

-Lisa Bonos

© 2010 The Washington Post Company