Today I am delighted to be sharing a review for Anaele & Delphine Hermans’ graphic memoir Green Almonds: Letters From Palestine before I dive down the rabbit hole and share a series of WWII and Holocaust reviews. This autobiographical account of living and volunteering in Palestine is a much needed antidote to the oscillations between fake news and feigned ignorance found in the media when it comes to reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Title: Green Almonds: Letters From Palestine
Author: Anaele Hermans
Illustrator: Delphine Hermans
Publisher: Lion Forge
Publication Date: July 3, 2018
Genre: Comics, Graphic Novel, Memoir, Biography
Themes: Family, Travel, Conflict
Features: Author’s note, Illustrator’s note
My Rating: 3.5 / 5
The graphic novel collaboration and true story of two sisters. Anaele, a writer, leaves for Palestine volunteering in an aid program, swinging between her Palestinian friends and her Israeli friends. Delphine is an artist, left behind in Liege, Belgium. From their different sides of the world, they exchange letters.
Green Almonds: Letters from Palestine is a personal look into a complex reality, through the prism of the experience of a young woman writing letters to her sister about her feelings and adventures in the occupied territories. Green Almonds is an intimate story with big implications.
A young woman discovers a country, works there, makes friends, lives a love story, and is confronted with the plight of the Palestinians, the violence on a daily basis that we see on our screens and read in our newspapers. Anaele’s story is brought to life by Delphine’s simple and evocative drawings, which give full force to the subject and evoke the complexity of this conflict, creating a journey to the everyday life of Palestinians.
Green Almonds: Letters from Palestine received the Doctors Without Borders Award for best travel diary highlighting the living conditions of populations in precarious situations when it was published in France in 2011.
First, lets get the uglies out of the way – 3.5 stars is a good review. In fact, it’s an above average review. I really liked Green Almonds, but know that I failed to connect with it on a personal/ aesthetic level. Now, this is the part where I expose my bias… you see, I cut my teeth on comics journalism/ conflict travelogues reading Joe Sacco (think Palestine, Footnotes in Gaza, and Safe Area Gorazde) and I find it difficult to read anything along these lines without drawing direct comparisons to the genre’s founder.
While Green Almonds has all of the deeply disturbing and emotional elements that I have come to appreciate and expect from works looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where this book feel just a little short for my tastes was in the art. The abstractions, while easily identifiable and unquestionably human, were just a little too cartoonish (if not a little childish) in relation to the subject matter at hand. I appreciated that the result was an emphasis that focused squarely on the personal narrative portrayed, ultimately I found the graphic element to be lacking in depth and emotion. The landscapes were simple with minimal detail and I was left wanting shading, texture, and a little realism. I know that this is entirely personal, but I had trouble with the overwhelming amount of white space!
But, and this is the important part, the panels and pages were meticulously blocked, the script expertly distributed, and the story fully supported and portrayed by the images at hand. There was an easily identifiable sense of time and place, with carefully controlled pacing that lent a realistic quality to the reading experience. There was ample variety in the panel sizes and arrangements which kept every pages feeling fresh and never boring, and the use of multiple transition types kept me on my toes. Additionally, enough action takes place in the gutter to allow the imagination enough agency to fill in the blanks based on assumptions or personal experience, with just enough imagery to keep everything on track.
Additionally, I really loved the alternation between the sisters with the comics/ postcard dichotomy. It really facilitated a difference in voice and character, even though Delphine is rarely portrayed, and highlights the ways in which siblings can be connected yet entirely opposite. I loved how Delphine was meticulous, succinct, and almost professional while Anaele embodied the type of free spirit that engages in voluntourism. I was most drawn to Anaele’s interactions with locals on either side of the conflict, and genuine appreciated how both Israelis and Palestinians were portrayed without bias or judgement. Every character had a story, a unique experience, and a lived reality that translated beautifully to the page.
It has always been difficult for me to conceptualize the spectrum of lifestyles lived within such a small geographical area, and yet Green Almonds portray’s beautifully how a wall and some checkpoints can separate opulence from poverty and oppressor from oppressed. As the pages progress it becomes increasingly clear how living in such conditions can wear a person down. The number of personal narratives relayed creates a critical mass highlighting a humanitarian crises, and really calls to question how we are able to sit by and turn away from this reality.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Although perhaps not to those who are new to the comics medium. Yet, the memoir and autobiographic elements are evocative, touching, and truly thought provoking. Green Almonds is most definitely a worthwhile and introspective read.
Many thanks to Diamond Book Distributors and NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.