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Book review: 'Not the Israel my Parents Promised Me' illustrates Israel's history

Published: Saturday, Aug. 16 2014 2:30 p.m. MDT

"NOT THE ISRAEL MY PARENTS PROMISED ME," by Harvey Pekar and JT Waldman, Hill and Wang, $16, 176 pages (nf)

Few books, let alone graphic novels, can successfully serve as a history lesson, an autobiography and a commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict all at once, but that is what “Not the Israel my Parents Promised Me” has done.

The book follows an ongoing conversation between authors Harvey Pekar and JT Waldman as they discuss Pekar’s childhood experience growing up in a Zionist household, and how his position on Israel changed as he grew up. Fans of Pekar, a notable name in the comics and graphic novel industry, will appreciate Pekar’s voice in the book, and anyone not familiar with Israel’s background will find this a highly readable history book.

Pekar starts his Jewish history lesson at the biblical beginning, back when Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac. Pekar’s history is brief (covering thousands of years in less than 200 pages), but it's thorough, and much of it is likely to be new information to the casual consumer. Anyone looking to be more informed on the history of Jews in Israel, especially in the face of the current Israeli-Palestinian fighting, can benefit here. The information is digestible, enlightening and relevant.

As Pekar explains how different centuries, decades and regimes affected the Jewish population, the illustration style changes as well. While the text describing the Seleucid dynasty, for example, might be a bit dry, the art will be enough to engage readers.

The panels (or lack of panels, sometimes) have been arranged so that the flow of the story never feels stagnant or predictable. This, and the range of illustration styles found here may be able to interest readers who would not normally have much interest in graphic novels.

Finally, Pekar posits some of his primary problems with the formation and upkeep of Israel, and makes arguments for how the situation could be improved. More than pushing a specific solution to the long-lasting conflict, though, Pekar promotes critical thinking. Pekar, the son of immigrant Zionist Jews, can look at Israel through a historical lens instead of an emotional one.

His arguments will encourage readers to do the same.

“Not the Israel my Parents Promised Me” was recently released in paperback. It contains brief mild language, some illustrated violence and no sexual themes.

Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2

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