This ambitious graphic novel traces the chaotic, bloody early history of the modern Jewish state in Palestine, focusing on a fractious family living in the hotly contested city of Jerusalem.
In April 1945, the Halabys live in the motley Machane Yehuda neighborhood of British Jerusalem. After inheriting property from his late father, kind, soft-spoken patriarch Izak now lives in a modest apartment with no-nonsense Jewish-Egyptian wife Emily and their four sons and lone daughter (and, eventually, a down-on-their luck family Izak takes pity on, much to Emily’s chagrin). Idealistic, artistic Avraham joins the Communist Party, under the leadership of noble Elias Habash, urging class solidarity between Jew and Arab alike. With Avraham returned from serving overseas with the Jewish brigade of the British army, dutiful David now enlists, devastating young Motti. Defiant Ezra delivers telegrams—and anti-British propaganda, journeying deeper into violent insurgency. Fearless, intelligent scamp Motti is best friends and classmates with cousin Jonathan, whose wealthy father, Yakov, deeply resents Motti’s father—his own brother. Bashful Devorah struggles with self-esteem as the world around her falls apart, though Jonathan insists she’s the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood. Through perils large and small—military occupation, suppression of Jewish identity, labor protests, internecine disputes, theater productions, open warfare—the family and city spiral into darkness, drenched in blood, as kindness and honor fail to overcome perceived slights. This dense work of nearly 400 pages offers almost no narration, save the opening six pages (map, condensed textual histories, illustrated family tree) that serve as a legend to be flipped back to time and again as the complex tale whirls mercilessly toward an intercut montage worthy of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather. Filmmaker and author Yakin (Marathon, 2012, etc.) doesn’t offer an easy read—the story is unapologetically larger than its pages—or any easy answers, which is bittersweetly appropriate given the subject matter. Bertozzi’s (Lewis & Clark, 2011, etc.) clean lines and deceptively cartoonish art deftly capture everything, from subtle emotion to human dismemberment.
A hefty tableau of beautifully gnashed teeth.