Reading Review: Footnotes In Gaza by Joe Sacco

Gaza needs no introduction. It’s been an ever present conflict zone for generations upon generations of people. It’s a conflict that I’ve only begun scratching the surface with and I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the full picture. I’ve been doing my best to seek sources of writing that show personal stories from the conflict to gain snapshots of how the struggle and on-going war affects those involved.

I stumbled across Joe Sacco’s Footnotes In Gaza after getting into graphic novels and quickly learnt that he’s one of the pioneers in a genre of war reportage comics. Something you could be sceptical of, as cartoons are our resource of satire and escapism, but after reading this graphic novel, it’s possibly one of the sharpest ways I’ve seen in terms of documenting a history of conflict.

Joe Sacco sets off to investigate two massacres that occur in the Gaza Strip in November 1956. He’s trying to find out information about Khan Younis and Rafah, which are the two sites for the incidents which happened during the Suez Crisis. Sacco’s premise is that these incidents have become footnotes in the tragic history of Gaza and he is working to document a narrative thread as close to the truth as possible.

The graphic novel form fits this exploration well as it allows Sacco to leap time and interviewee per panel, allowing the reader to keep a detailed track of events as Sacco learns about them. A recurring challenge that Sacco meets is the fragility of memory. As Gaza is such an ongoing site of crisis and war, the interviewees he finds sometimes get their times mixed up and there is extensive sifting through the book where Sacco digs to the deep truths. For me, this book’s truth is how severe the conflict has been and how that has led to death being an everyday aspect for all people living within Gaza.

The art fits the means of the text. Sacco’s animations are comic book-esque but not to the degradation of the stories he is chasing. If anything, it serves as an element of detachment from the horrendous scenes. This is a good or bad thing.

It’s a harrowing read, but honest and works well to counter any potential bias of a writer exploring this conflict. Sacco lets every account stand for itself and openly states how he isn’t sure how close he gets in his report to the absolute truth. But Footnotes In Gaza works to capture these incidents in a forever-tome, that will help future readers come to this book and learn not to forget each and every incident that happens in a brutal conflict.

Read When: You want to learn more about Gaza history and its present state and you want to explore war reportage graphic novels as a form, or more generally, who the form of panelling/graphic novel narrative can be used in different ways.
Don’t Read When: You want something light, something conclusive.

Footnotes In Gaza, Joe Sacco, Metropolitan Books, 2010.

Reading Review: Paradise by Toni Morrison

This is the kind of book I can’t read to relax… Each sentence makes me want to hide or slam the book down and drown in the happy happy parts of my music collection. I want to run away but I can’t let go. Paradise, by Toni Morrison, is a bullet, a kaleidoscopic-thematic bullet that completely undoes what you thought a novel could be. It’s a wash of voice, each protagonist a heavyweight character with dark and quirk and conflict with each turn of phrase. It’s arresting.

Set in a fictional town, Ruby, Paradise tracks the lives of a group of women who find themselves colliding with each other at different points of time around a Convent.
What’s beautiful is how these collisions happen. There’s no linear time here, no chance to gauge where you are because by the next paragraph, Morrison leaps voice, character, setting. You learn about each character in drips, tiny slivers of story that Morrison bleeds in when you least expect but when you most need it. This is poetry. I can forever talk about how prose can be ‘poetic’ and never really know what I’m talking about, but Paradise is poetry. It is narrative that isn’t susceptible to lineation. It relies on the language and how that catapults you from past to present to future to now to then to who? It’s a storm.

Themes are of race, faith, identity, equality and family; how we have to rely on each other in times of hardship and the pressures that are brought about by this. The hardships in this novel are created by the men, the domineering, corrupt and violent men of Ruby. Paradise charts the endurance of women who suffer and in some cases overcome these challenges. It is a reality that Morrison has managed to capture in this book as she gives us characters that are purely shaped by their actions upon each other. This allows her to drive us to core of how men abuse their power, to then show us a spectrum of how this can manifest. Morrison also presents the women of Paradise as flawed, highlighted by how they conflict with each other when they have so much working against them. This is a book of equality in its exploration of inequality. It builds characters as humans, people who act upon their prejudices, their background influences and external forces that lead to situations where people get hurt or sacrifices are made.

Criticism could be that it’s a challenging book to pick up and sink back into. It can be jagged at times with block sections of such crowded prose that I found I would sometimes forget whose story I was following. I believe that’s another element that Morrison has implemented in the language of this novel; everyone is lost in Ruby, or on their way to being so. This is how we get lost with them. I would recommend anyone to get lost with them.
This is a heavy book. Beautiful but heavy. I will be taking a break from Toni Morrison but Paradise has shifted my approach to writing and reading, so I will definitely return to her work in the future.

How to open chapters with Toni Morrison:
‘They shoot the white girl first.’
‘The neighbour seemed pleased when the babies smothered.’
‘Either the pavement was burning or she had sapphires hidden in her shoes.’
‘In the good clean darkness of the cellar, Consalata woke to the wrenching disappointment of not having died the night before.’

Read When: You want a challenge with language used, character, narrative style and thematic blades.
Don’t Read When: You want escapism, light reading.

Toni Morrison, Paradise, 1997, Alfred A. Knopf

My Little Review – Gravity Chain’s ‘End Times’ EP

I was in my bedroom. I was lying on my bed and I was counting the pimples on my ceiling. Now, I’m in the desert, guessing at the number of all the stars spread out over the various red rocks poking out of the sand. And in my ears, ringing like the wind through chimes, is the sound of ‘End Times,’ the first EP release by Gravity Chain, a five piece alternative rock band from Falmouth, UK. Alternative rock, for starters, doesn’t quite cut the sound that has transported me to this foreign place. If I had to fit this sound into a tin, it would be labelled post pock, with hints of desert blue rock. Doesn’t have the same ring to it as alternative really does it? Perhaps, while I lie here on cooling sand, it’d be best to go through the tracks and tell you how I feel about them… I may as well until they take me back home.

‘From Above’ is the first track and descends on the listener first with quiet plucks of syncopated guitar and echoing vocals, driven hard by thumping drums. There is colour in the simplicity of the bass; it weaves in between the guitar and drums, linking them, throwing ripples under their various waves. I get flowery when I hear polyrhythms… There is such a solid groove, yet it feels light and ambient. What I love is the howling vocals, these deep, bluesy melodies that seem to be calling out to the sky. All of these elements lock in spacious sections that guide me into a crescendo that feeds off of the gathering momentum built up from the start of the song. Oh wow… and here comes the next track….

‘Brother’ rolls in, far more bluesy, taking me into a Doors-esque sound with sweeping chords and playful vocal rhythms. Lyrically, this one feels more poignant, lines like ‘I don’t wanna be me anymore’ call on themes that resonate with me… Those kind of themes that you can’t really put your finger on, but you understand all the more. The vocals in ‘Brother’ give it the most momentum, building into a crescendo with the repetition of ‘brother to brother/soul to soul…’ the music and lyrics culminating in an almost battle montage playing in my head. I’m striving with my brother, I’m walking with him, in a desert and yeah, it’s pretty hot and I’m not sure we’ll make it but… Yeah, we’re gonna make it. That kind of feeling? Don’t get it? Listen!

‘The End’ is lead in with the end of the climactic ‘Brother’ feeding off of the previous track’s energy, but progresses to a new sound. The spacious sounds of the EP culminate here in gradual builds and echoing guitar, making for an exceedingly haunting sound. I literally feel like the end is coming. The vocals drone, bass and drums lock in a dirty breakdown, thundering at the end of the track. Rocks are falling from the skies. The clouds are dying. This post rock crescendo and sound lands on my paralysed body and amid the awe, I wake up, in my room.

‘End Times’ is finished. I sit up and check that I’m still alive. Luckily, I have arrived with conclusive details with the EP, safe and sound without the harsh winds of the desert. ‘End Times’ marks an impressive and ambitious for Gravity Chain. They link a variety of genres and rather than making an inconsistent, failing sound, they have delivered a cohesive three songs that feed into each other stylistically and . I’m thoroughly astounded and I must admit, I’m a sucker for music that makes you close your eyes and lose yourself. It’s just crazy that Gravity Chain did it so easily in their first release.

For those who like a mix of bands and genres; reminiscent of Foals, Radiohead, Warpaint, The Doors, Kings Of Leon, but merely drawing on elements from these sources. To really get your own idea of their sound, check out Gravity Chain’s ‘End Times’ EP on here: https://soundcloud.com/gravitychain/sets/end-times-ep