Guy Delisle, Chroniques de Jerusalem (2011)

I love Guy Delisle’s chronicles of daily life in weird places. After Shenzhen and Pyongyang, this time he moves with his family to Jerusalem. Not so exotic a place, you’d think, and yet!

A stay-at-home dad taking care of the kids and trying to draw while his wife works for a NGO (Medecins Sans Frontieres, Doctors without Borders), he arrives without any preconception in the middle of one of the most complex political situation that exists for decades. And instead of being all ideological and abstract about it, Delisle uses everyday life situations to make us feel how life really is in Jerusalem. That’s precisely what I love about his books!

His attention to details, his sketches that almost look like a travel journal and his eye for absurd, unwillingly comic situations make it fun, while at the same time it gives a picture that no journalist ever presented.

Now, the place is highly controversial, so however sensitive and neutral the funny little cartoons of Delisle are trying to be, staying one year in this place surely makes you notice shocking things and feel different about issues than when you’d first arrive.

His family has been assigned an expat flat in the Eastern part of the town, a rather ugly place with lots of rubbish and far from touristy places, if only because the lines of separation between Jewish  and Arab neighborhoods make bus routes look like a maze. He finds himself frequently baffled by apparently simple situations like buying diapers on a Friday in an Arab neighborhood: should he buy from the only opened shop, in an Israeli settlement? would his buying support the settlement? or is it just a matter of convenience, and, for G’s sake, just a bag of diapers?

I know some readers (on Amazon) have complained that Delisle had an antisemitic stance. Personally, I don’t think it that way and find the book very measured. He points out intolerance and fanaticism on both sides. His view is totally atheist. Because he asks apparently naive questions, he can get surprisingly candid answers that are sometimes shocking and sometimes deep, but I am convinced that they are true to his experience of living in Jerusalem.

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