I dread the times when I’m suddenly confronted with my own tendency and talent for procrastination. For years I’ve been meaning to do a samizdat translation of the graphic novel, Ferme 54 by Galit and Gilad Seliktar, after meeting up with them at the Angoulême Festival in 2009. I even started a page on Stephen Betts’ Comix Influx website, but, despite Stephen’s incessant support and coaching, I simply never got around to it. And so last week, when I got an email from Fanfare/Ponent Mon‘s Stephen Robson announcing the English edition of the book, my joy about the fact that this wonderful book is finally available for the English speaking public, was dampened a bit with a bit of shame for not having persisted enough.
But don’t let that piece of irrelevant personal trivia keep you away from this brillian book, because it might as well be one of the most important graphic novels to hit the British stores this year, for three reasons.
First of all, it’s the subject. Farm 54 is a collection of three, partly autobiographical short stories set in the rural part of Israel in the 1970’s and 80’s. They narrate key moments in the life of a young Jewish woman, each of which feature tragedy of some sorts, forcing her to grow up and realise that the bliss of youth is only temporary. In the first story, a family drama rips apart her youthful sense of endlessness and innocence, and catapults her into adolescence, together with a profound feeling of guilt and shame.
The second story is set to the backdrop of the Lebanon war, when in quite a similar way the image of Israel in the eyes of the world, as the forever victim trying to stake its claim and to simply survive, was replaced by that of the aggressor, and the supressor of the Palestine people. And finally, in the third story, these two themes come together when the young woman, now doing her military service, is sent on an nightly mission to destroy a Palestine settlement. The combination of the personal and the political, of the extremely local and the global, give these stories a profound relevance when it comes to forming a personal opinion about these matters.
Then, the writing. Galit Seliktar is a poet and a short story writer, who has had her work published in Israeli literary journals like Mitaam and Helicon, as well as in local papers and magazines. Even though the subject matter of the stories in this book obviously is very close to home, Seliktar often seems to limit herself to register and report on the often horrific things that occur in the life of her young heroine.
Even the effects these tragedies have on her psychology and personal morality, are described in a very muted and toned-down way, life-shattering though they may be. By simply showing and calmly describing what happens, and how it affects her, Seliktar is able to draw in the reader into her story, as he understands that he too could encounter dramas like these.
And finally, there’s the art. Seliktar collaborated on this book for the first time with her brother, Gilad, an accomplished children’s book illustrator and cartoonist for most of Israel’s dailies. He translates the distant-immediate narration of his sister’s prose by deliberately keeping his drawings rather sketchy, only suggesting details and generally leaving out all too explicit facial expressions.
In fact, Seliktar often chooses to only hint at crucial scenes by leading up to them, and then panning the camera to the setting, some detail in the background, or simply white panels. At the same time, his art, which has a look to it as if many of the drawings have been traced over photographs, help in situating the stories in their own time, as they remind us of the commercial art that was popular at the time in magazines and advertising.
All in all, Farm 54 is a little, seemingly unassuming book, that will grab your attention and hold on to it for a long time. It is the perfect companion piece to Joe Sacco’s reportages, or to the short stories by Lebanese cartoonist Zeina Abirached. Read it.
Farm 54 by Galit Seliktar and Gilad Seliktar is published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon, and is available in pre-order from the Forbidden Planet store.