By February 22, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

Waltz with Bashir

No book of 2009 has been as stunning and exhilarating as Waltz with Bashir, and our book club will be reading it next month.

This is keeping in mind that two excellent new novels come out in March, and either one would make a fine March book club selection for University Book Store in Seattle.

Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor is intimate, touching, and quite a clever riff on mathematics and Japanese baseball, the story of an elderly professor with a memory problem, his twenty-eight-year-old single parent housekeeper, and her ten-year-old son.

Domenico Starnone’s First Execution is a trippy, Calvino-like take on the crime novel as well as a meditation on political violence, another novel about an elderly professor, this time one who decides to fulfill the wish of a former student in jail as a suspected terrorist, a thriller about the writing of a thriller, complete with sequences cut out after they’re written, alternate versions, and the original scenario.

I didn’t choose either one of them.

Instead I’ve chosen Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, a graphic memoir derived from the new Israeli animated film. Have I lost my mind?

Here’s why. No work of art this year has hit me with so much impact. For days afterward I pondered it. It’s simply about more. It’s grappling not only with military participation in evil, and its after-effects, but also with memory and the devious alternates to true remembering. The subject couldn’t be more timely and important. We never talk about the after-effects of serving in a war. This graphic memoir does.

Ari Folman notices that as a mature man he’s forgotten his role in the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, but he knows he was there. He begins searching for fellow classmates who might remember his role there, for other soldiers serving in the same area. As the narrative goes from one soldier to the next, the soldiers’ stories within stories slowly lead Folman through the tricks of memory to what really happened, as the Israeli troops began to realize they were participating in a genocide.

It’s the story of Folman’s search for and recovery of memories of complicity in war so unbearable that his mind rejected them, buried them until they could only surface twenty years later, literally erupting back into his consciousness. His journey back into his own remembered past leads him to a host of well-meaning young men uncertain who exactly they’re fighting against, who they’re shooting at, or what city they’ve landed at, but not daring to stop firing.

Besides the fascinating meditation on memory and the horrors of war, the book is simply gorgeous, a pleasure to hold in your hands, a visual feast of rich color, with shifting moods and styles. The book is based on the framework of the original storyboards, but with the final art, frame for frame a production of love. It’s every bit as impactful as the film, with only two minuses – it lacks the film’s haunting soundtrack, and the opening three-D sequence of the attack of the twenty-six dogs, certainly one of the most electrifying openings to any film I’ve seen in some time.

No matter how much you love the movie, you’ll want the book. And what great conversations will spring from it! I’ll be amazed if this book doesn’t generate an electrifying discussion in our book club.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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