Book Review

Journalism by Joe Sacco

Photo on 18-02-2014 at 15.26

Joe Sacco’s Journalism collects several short pieces (ranging from two to fifty pages in length) drawn and written in the decade proceeding 2011. If you’re not familiar with Joe Sacco, he is a critically acclaimed comics journalist, best known for his achingly moving Palestine. Some of the works here are drawn from his time in the Palestinian territories too, but he engages on a moving and personal level with the dispossessed and the displaced across the planet.

Whether he is evoking the naivety and tragedy of doomed American servicemen during the Iraq war or the innocent Iraqis their peers were torturing elsewhere in the country, he is able to empathise and create sympathy for all manner of people whose lives, homes and futures have been taken out of their hands.

A series of works discussing the horrors of the Russian-Chechnyan conflicts through interviews with women; an extended piece about the horrors of the poorly-administrated refugee centres in Malta, filled by Africans who want to get to the European mainland; a study of the plight of Dalits, “untouchables”, in rural India, their lives put at risk through innate bureaucratic corruption; unhappy Palestinians forced to fight against those fighting for them in order to remove the Israeli army’s callous excuses to destroy the buildings they live in…

Sacco vividly offers detailed experiences of truly unpleasant places and situations, providing personal and individual insights into each. He is thorough, he is kind, and he draws wonderfully. His words are terse and informative, his research in depth, localised, personal.

I keep using that word, because that is the important thing about his work. Every victim, whoever he or she is, has a voice, a name (even if it’s a pseudonym), every connection is felt. Now, call me another middle-class white fucking liberal, call any feeling Sacco evokes in me colonial guilt or whatever, dismiss his skill as a storyteller and a journalist by criticising his readership or his politics or the politics of his readership… But to deny that this is a moving collection of evocative, provocative and deeply personal journalistic stories is shameful.

Joe Sacco is a great talent, if you haven’t read him, I strongly advise you to do so.

Very heavy going. But beautiful.

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