Tuesday, July 14, 2015

MIKE'S PLACE by Jack Baxter & Joshua Faudem, illus. by Koren Shadmi

Riveting is the first word that comes to mind, once you've finished this graphic novel from :01 First Second and stopped saying things like, "Oh my G-d, oh my G-d."

MIKE'S PLACE: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv tells the interwoven stories that form the whole of the suicide bombing that blew apart a popular club in Tel Aviv in 2003. It starts in 2003, just before an American filmmaker named Jack turns up in Israel to start an independent movie about Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian on trial in Israel for orchestrating terrorism, only to find that another film crew was already well in-process.

Instead, Jack decides to film at Mike's Place, a popular bar where politics weren't allowed. As Gal, the owner of the club says early on, "Mike's Place is the real Israel--the best part of the Middle East." Jack hires Joshua, a bartender from Mike's with a degree from film school in Prague, to be his cameraman, and shooting ensues, including lots of interviews with the people who work at the club as well as footage of what it's like at Mike's Place each night.

Throughout the graphic novel, other stories are interspersed - we see two British citizens who are preparing some sort of attack, and learn about the relationships among the people at Mike's Place, including a bit of their history and the nature of their relationships. We learn, too, a bit about everyday life in Israel along the way.

The book is split into six sections, each one introduced with words from the Qur'an. As the authors say at the close: "Our long-time friend and prominent Muslim-American cleric, Imam Benjamin Bilal, helped select the scriptures from the Qur'an that are quoted at the beginning of the six chapters of this graphic novel. We wanted to show that if Asif and Omar (the bombers) had perhaps meditated upon and understood these sacred words things may have worked out differently for them and for the victims of the terror act they committed in the name of their religion and politics."

The first two chapters are background, with the suicide attack on Mike's Place occurring in the third chapter. The remaining chapters are about the aftermath - the deaths, injuries, recoveries, and relationships.

The relationships include friendships and love affairs, including complicated ones. And the aftermath includes details about things you might prefer not to know about, like "organic shrapnel", injuries including wounds, hearing loss, and stress/anxiety issues. It also includes a celebration of life, a realization that "you're still alive", and some insight into how people pick up their lives and go on after this sort of disaster, which is far too common in Israel.

It wasn't until I reached the epilogue that I realized that the two authors of the book are Jack the movie-maker and Joshua the cameraman from the book, and that they actually made their film, a documentary released in November, 2005, entitled Blues by the Beach, which is when, as some might say, sh*t got real for me. Despite the subject matter and the horror of the topic, the book itself seemed distant until that Epilogue. "Oh my G-d."

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