Things that start with a bang often run out of fuel very quickly, whether it's a science experiment or a story. Sarah Glidden's graphic novel "How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less" falls victim to this, as a quick start gives way to a meandering middle.
The quick start is due in part to the fascinating subject material: Glidden took a Birthright Israel trip and documented the journey for readers in muted watercolors and words. Seeing Israel from her first-time perspective is a compelling excursion for several chapters, but for those uninitiated with the intimate details of Jewish and Palestinian history, it's rough going after a while.
She spends much of her time describing the varying ways that the histories of places and events are told by both groups for different ends. While the writing is solid, it's difficult to understand the subtle but important differences in two different accounts after having just learned of a story in the first place.
The memoir doesn't attempt to wrap things up in a neat bow, letting the real-life messiness of the subject matter and the author's confusion over her thoughts on it ramble over the chronological framework of the Birthright Israel tour, which spans all but three pages of the book.
These two decisions make for a very honest account of a trip, but it doesn't necessarily make for most riveting reading. Still, the last page of "How to Understand" doesn't impart an unpleasant feeling, just a vaguely uncomfortable one that corresponds with the overall theme of the work: Issues are much more complex when you live in them, even for a period as short as a trip or a graphic novel. "?Stephen Carradini