Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review: Safe Area Gorazde

Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco

Safe Area Gorazde (pronounced gor-ajh-DUH) is Joe Sacco's documentary style graphic novel about the Bosnian wars which occurred in the early to mid-nineties. Safe Area Gorazde reminded me of Palestine as Sacco uses the same techniques to gather information and to tell his story.

During the 90's Sacco made several trips into the UN designated "Safe Area" Gorazde to meet the people there and to hear their stories. Bosnian Muslims were forced to fight off starvation, isolation, and enemy troops while trying to carry on some semblance of a normal life despite living in a town deep behind enemy lines.

Sacco interviews a wide variety of people in the town of Gorazde, but for me, the most gripping parts occurred when Sacco interviewed various soldiers of the town who had fought on the front lines and told him stories of the brutal fighting happening often only a few kilometers away. The brutality and the tactics used by the Chetnik soldiers against the townsfolk of Gorazde, who were outgunned, outnumbered and virtually defenseless often left me feeling ill and shaken.

Sacco does a good job of giving the reader a bit of the historical backdrop as well as the politics involved. I learned as I read, because even though this war occurred while I was a teen, I didn't remember many of the details, and certain aspects were completely new to me.

There were many times while I was reading Safe Area Gorazde that I caught myself comparing it to Palestine. I caught myself comparing the severity of the two struggles, the suffering of the people involved, trying to decide which situation was worse until I eventually realized that trying to make that judgement isn't fair. It isn't fair for me to judge one tragedy against another. There isn't a measuring stick for human tragedy, and the circumstances that took place in Gorazde and Palestine are downright terrible regardless. Sacco makes this abundantly clear. Not only is it clear from the first hand accounts he collects from his interviews, but also with the artwork on the pages.

Sacco uses black and white artwork with incredible detail to help tell the story.
Safe Area Gorazde is a graphic novel that sticks, and the art has a lot to do with that. I think that with just words, the story loses the impact that Sacco is able to convey by including art work that takes no prisoners and shows (often with lurid detail) the brutality the people of Gorazde faced. Sacco doesn't pull any punches, and Safe Area Gorazde does a great job of detailing the Bosnian war from one forgotten town's perspective.

Grade: A-

Battle Hymns has been cranking out a fair amount of Joe Sacco related material lately, as Palestine was my favorite graphic novel from 2009, and I also saw Sacco this past week at an author event. Safe Area Gorazde should wrap up my Joe Sacco binge however. Expect to see more Graphic Novel related material here in the future, eventually covering some different styles in the meduim.

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