How to Under­stand Israel in 60 Days or Less

Sarah Glid­den

By – September 1, 2011

Sarah Glid­den is the per­fect trav­el com­pan­ion for a trip to Israel, or any­where else for that mat­ter. She is friend­ly, curi­ous, artic­u­late, and a ter­rif­ic artist to boot. In pan­el after pan­el of cap­ti­vat­ing illus­tra­tions, read­ers accom­pa­ny Glid­den on her first trip to Israel, with a Birthright group. She is pre­pared to hate Israel and the Israelis for their part in the Pales­tin­ian issue, and she’s ready to label every­thing she hears and sees as Birthright pro­pa­gan­da.” Many times over, she is forced to recon­sid­er her pre­con­ceived ideas, and she is sur­prised by what she sees and the peo­ple she meets. Israel tugs at her heart, and when she feels an unex­pect­ed con­nec­tion to the land and the peo­ple, her emo­tions are pal­pa­ble to readers.

Trav­el mem­oirs can be for­mu­la­ic: the author goes on a trip, has new expe­ri­ences, feels unex­pect­ed emo­tions, and then arrives home a changed per­son. Glid­den shakes things up, and deliv­ers a trav­el­ogue that is any­thing but stan­dard. In a unique and enter­tain­ing twist, Glid­den depicts her­self play­ing judge, jury, lawyer, defen­dant, and bailiff in the tri­al Birthright is try­ing to brain­wash me vs. Birthright is actu­al­ly pret­ty rea­son­able.” This mock tri­al of her con­science offers a fas­ci­nat­ing way for read­ers to visu­al­ly peer into the author’s thought process. Glid­den also plays with time, bring­ing famous peo­ple from his­to­ry into the present to car­ry on con­ver­sa­tions with her. For exam­ple, she walks the Negev desert with David Ben-Guri­on, and she vis­its with kib­butz pio­neers who are depict­ed in a paint­ing. Along the way her real com­pan­ions, such as her friend Melis­sa and their Israeli tour guide Gil, pro­vide Glid­den with stead­fast emo­tion­al sup­port as she makes her life-chang­ing jour­ney. Going to Israel? Pack this com­pelling and inspir­ing mem­oir along with your guide­books and sun­screen. You won’t regret Sarah Glidden’s com­pa­ny on your trip. 

Wendy Was­man is the librar­i­an & archivist at the Cleve­land Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in Cleve­land, Ohio.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think Sarah’s char­ac­ter was sym­pa­thet­ic and/​or empa­thet­ic? Were there times when you felt more or less sym­pa­thet­ic toward her or iden­ti­fied with her more or less?

  2. There are a few instances where Sarah uses more imag­i­na­tive scenes to illus­trate her own thoughts (putting Birthright on tri­al on p. 28 and 107, the his­tor­i­cal scenes on p 87, etc.). Did those enhance your read­ing or did you pre­fer the more straight­for­ward and real­is­tic parts of the story?

  3. Sarah wrote these comics after her trip was over, yet has to go back to show her thoughts from the begin­ning of the trip. How do you think she por­trayed her ear­li­er self? In an inter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Post, she says that she’s for­giv­ing of [Sarah] as a char­ac­ter in the third per­son.”. Do you agree or do you think there’s some judge­ment against her ini­tial approach to Israel and Birthright?

  4. Sarah reacts to a Free Tibet ral­ly (p 86) in Israel, but then real­izes that every­one, regard­less of their nation­al­i­ty or polit­i­cal lean­ings, has a right to crit­i­cize the vio­la­tions of oth­ers. Do you agree?

  5. Sarah’s cousin accus­es her of hav­ing a Birthright glow” (p 93). Do you think that this is true or just that her per­spec­tive is chang­ing with new expe­ri­ences and information?

  6. What do you think caus­es Sarah’s emo­tion­al break­down after Inde­pen­dence Hall? Does her out­look change after that or is her shift more gradual?

  7. Sarah is very vig­i­lant for any agen­da or pro­pa­gan­da from the speak­ers to her Birthright trip. Aside from the Golan movie, where do you think the line is drawn? What’s the dif­fer­ence between a speak­er hav­ing an agen­da or just shar­ing their own perspective?

  8. At the end, Sarah real­izes that Nadan is right that they don’t need to agree on every­thing — some­thing that is at the heart of most polit­i­cal exchanges. Why do you think she was try­ing so hard to con­vince him of her way of thinking?

  9. If the book con­tin­ued anoth­er few pages, how do you think Sarah would answer the ques­tions of the oth­er trav­el­ers at the hostel?

  10. Do you think the for­mat of a graph­ic nov­el is more or less effec­tive for a mem­oir than for a fic­tion­al account? How is it dif­fer­ent than a mem­oir writ­ten in prose?