Guy DeLisle’s “Jerusalem” is not a personal memoir but a breath-taking chronicle of one year in the holy city, written by a visitor with insatiable curiosity and a sketchbook.
DeLisle’s wife works for an international relief group, and they move into an East Jerusalem apartment with their two children. While she works, he takes care of the kids and sets out to find three things: a decent playground, a quiet place to draw his cartoons, and how the residents live in this riven city. He eventually succeeds in locating the first two. In his quest for the third, he finds more puzzles than solutions. He visits the holy sites of three religions, traverses neighborhoods carved up by political, religious, and military barriers, and tries to cope with a maddening maze of checkpoints, roadblocks, and prohibitions that shift with the hour of the day, the day of the week, and the side of the street.
Wherever he goes, DeLisle draws, and the drawings are beautiful. Simple but rich, they capture the traffic jams, the claustrophobic markets, the sacred buildings, the settlers, the soldiers, and the massive security wall. They are populated with people who are alive in their warmth, their longing and their anger. DeLisle is an accomplished animator turned narrative cartoonist, and “Jerusalem” builds on the graphic chronicles he produced during earlier stays in North Korea, Burma, and China.
He is an observer, not an advocate, but as he presses his inquiries, his frustration comes through. The steady encroachment of Israeli settlers on the homes and lives of Palestinian city dwellers casts a growing shadow over his graphic diary. The house of his babysitter’s family is threatened with seizure. Others he meets fear their homes will be attacked. The recounting is not strident but evocative. Winnicott would likely have sympathized. Speaking about the Berlin Wall in 1969, he wrote, “Much of what we call civilization becomes impossible the nearer we get to the customs barrier.”