Mention the word ‘travelogue’ and people tend to think in terms of a diary-like book, describing the author’s experiences in a place and those who lived there, generally with a background of the history and culture of the region thrown in. Well, Guy Delisle’s take on one of the holiest and most controversial cities in the word is all that. And what’s more, it is in the form of a graphic novel (or “comic book” as some people insist on calling them).
For that is what Chronicles from the Holy City is–a sprawling three hundred-odd page account of a person’s stay in it. Approaching the city totally as a stranger, Delisle takes the reader through literally every nook and corner of the city, wandering around as a cartoonist who is trying to juggle his job, while spending time with his child and girlfriend, who is working in the city. It is all here–the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis, the Christians take on the city, the orthodox Jews and their relationship with the Samaritans, the NGOs, the diplomats (and their parties), the monuments, the constant security checks, and of course, all the legal complications (and physical searches) that a person staying in the city has to go through.
Some might not be impressed by Delisle’s stark, colour-free sketches, but as you keep turning the pages, it is difficult not to be riveted by the narrative, as the lead character tries to find a cafe to work in, works out bus routes, figures out holidays, and plots plans to sneak into holy places. And all of it is told with refreshing sensitivity, candour, objectivity and whenever the occasion warrants, humour. The result? We now think we actually can talk with anyone about the holy city without batting an eyelid. Delisle’s work literally picks you up and walks you through Jerusalem and its neighbourhoods, road by road, lane by lane. So much so that you do not want the book to finish.
Of course, it does. Of course, you pick it up and start reading it again. Ten years ago, we would have laughed at the idea of a travelogue as a graphic novel. Today, thanks to Delisle, we think it can capture the essence of a city as well as any format.
Should you read Chronicles from the Holy City? Yes, you should. Even if you are not interested in “travel literature.” For this book transcends genres and goes straight into the must-read category.
Now, will someone get Delisle to Delhi or Kolkota please?
Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
by Guy Delisle