The Photographer

Guibert, Emmanuel, Didier Lefleve, and Frederic Lemercier. The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. New York: First Second, 2009.

Reason read: Afghanistan gained its independence from British rule in July 1919.

I didn’t know what to expect when I read a review of The Photographer, calling it a “photographic graphic novel.” It is quite unique and simply put, amazing. In three parts, The Photographer tells the story of how the aid workers of Medecins Sans Frontieres, smuggled across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan disguised as women in chadri, provided medical support to small communities during conflict. Didier Lefleve, a French photojournalist, traveled with the group to Zaragandara during the Afghan-Soviet War of 1986. In this district of Yaftali Sufla MSF establishes a field hospital while staffing a second one. The final part is Didier Lefleve’s nearly disastrous solo departure from Afghanistan. As the tagline for MSF reads, “We go where we are needed most,” The photographs and journal of Lefleve tell the entire story in intimate detail. It is a powerful print documentary.
It seems impossible for there to be humor in The Photographer, especially when you read of children with their eyes apparently glued shut and paralyzed by shrapnel, but it exists. One word: peaches. I confess. I giggled. That’s all I can say about that.
Most amazing fact: despite the reality they are fighting the Russians, Afghan doctors are able to obtain x-rays for patients, disguised as English speaking colleagues. they send men who are too old to be conscripted. No one suspects the men of being part of the resistance.

As an aside, I have supported MWF (known by the American subsidiary as Doctors Without Borders), for years. I first learned of the organization when Natalie would invite members to speak about their work during a set break in her concerts. I shared Natalie’s pride when they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. I appreciated learning about Juliette Fournot, the woman who started the US arm of Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Author facts: Emmanuel Guibert is an accomplished graphic novelist. I am only reading one of his works. Didier Lefleve died way too young at only 49 years of age. Frederic Lemercier was the mastermind behind the layout and coloring of The Photographer.

Book trivia: The English translation of The Photographer was publisher in 2009. Lefleve didn’t live long enough to see it. He passed from a heart attack in 2007.

Playlist: Michel Jonasz

Nancy said: Pearl called The Photographer “one of the best books” she read in 2009.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires” (p 3).

…Why I Run…

Inman, Matthew (aka the Oatmeal). The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014.

Reason read: because I’m still stuck on running books even though I’m officially done being psycho.

I cannot, cannot, cannot stress how frigging funny this comic* is. I found it while searching for something completely (and I do mean completely different), but sooo happy I found it. In a nutshell, it’s the illustrated running biography of Matthew Inman, better known by his comic name, the Oatmeal. But, he’s not your typical athlete. When he runs he’s chased by a “fat cherub” he calls the Blerch (the little voice in your head that convinces you you’re better off sleeping in late or eating cake or both, maybe even at the same time?). And speaking of cake, Inman is not immune to food addiction. He runs so that he can eat “like a fast moving dumpster” (p 18). His words not mine. See what I mean? Funny. There’s more: slaying kraken, being vain, running from Giant Sparrow Bees in the mountains of Japan, tips on running a marathon; there are even race stickers. And much more. I kid you not. Maybe it’s because I am a runner (kinda sorta maybe) but I had more laugh-out-loud moments than I knew what to do with.

As a postscript, I had this quote of Inman’s taped to my treadmill for the longest time (long before I even knew of the Oatmeal or his book): “The Blerch is a horrible anthropomorphized white blob, a monster made of mayonnaise and hatred…” Why did I have this taped to my treadmill? Because everyone has a Blerch.

*I can’t call it a “graphic novel” because it’s not fiction, but it’s not your typical comic book either. You just have to read ti to see what I mean.

Burma Chronicles

DeLisle, Guy. Burma Chronicles. Translated by Helge Dascher. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly, 2008.

There is so much packed into this 200+  travelogue about living in Burma. DeLisle’s wife Nadege is a French aid worker with Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) on assignment in Burma. Guy and infant son Louis travel with her and Guy spends his time teaching about comics, touring the country and writing about his observations. Burma Chronicles is Guy’s account of their time in Burma from every angle from weather to architecture to malaria and AIDS to politics.. From the very beginning there is subtle humor (just look at the square for mom, dad & son and their luggage on page 3), but at the same time he tackles the politics of the country (his infatuation with seeing Aung San Suu Kyi’s house is cute).

Favorite squares: page 8 (father and son sleeping – oh so cute).

Reason read: Aung San Suu Kyi was released in the month of November.

Author fact: DeLisle has his own very cute website here.

Book trivia: There is a lot going on in Burma Chronicles. My advice is to read it twice.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Comics with a Sense of Place” (p 68).