by Emmanuel Guibert
I bought this without realising it would contain actual photographs. I fully expected a graphic novel detailing a photographer’s trip into Afghanistan. I love books like that. What I got was so much more enriched by the added photographs. Somehow them all being in black and white added to the whole experience. It does what it says on the tin to begin with. Didier Lefevre joins a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) group going into Afghanistan as a photographer while it was at war with the Soviet Union. It uses both comic still images and captions with copies of his actual photographs to detail the attempts to cross the border from Pakistan, avoid bombings and land mines while crossing mountains and steep passes through Afghanistan until the Doctors reached their destination.
The hardship of the journey is brought to life with added insights to Afghan villages and ways of life. It turns what many would think of that country on its head. I cannot decide yet if the idea that Afghanistan has not changed in many regions in the near 30 years since is beautiful or sad. It is quite the journey, visually, emotionally and linguistically. It makes me think that pieces like this and others I have read would be wonderful things to add to school libraries and curriculums to bring history to life in a new way. Just, a wonderful piece.
It is great value for money as it is A4 sized and 288 pages. I speed read so while I do enjoy travelogue graphic novels and comics I buy them sparingly because of how quickly I get through them. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by geeky friends who are willing to share their pieces with me or treat me to the odd gem. Guilbert and Lefevre combine to create a beautiful piece that brings a lot of humour to a terrible situation. It is a humbling read as well. It made me think of what I have and how lucky I am to not have lived through a war in which my personal safety was truly at risk. Bombs have never dropped in my country. Shoot outs between the government and rebels have not occurred. I, of course, read this while war between the government, rebels and ISIS tears Syria apart and has created the biggest refugee crises since world war two. Many are very cold and unfeeling about it all and I cannot help but wonder if they would feel the same if they took time to read this graphic novel or many of the war memoirs that are available. Doctors Without Borders, the same group described in this piece, now make their way to Greece and Hungary and Italy to help those fleeing the violence.
I think it is a very honest account. The good and bad sides are shown of the Afghan people. Many offer everything they can share from tea to dates and bread. Others charge money to help people reach their destinations without another caravan of similar people shooting them. Then there are strange moments such as how the Afghans agree that if the MDF doctors are hurt they will deliver them to the Russians to get care. There is nothing quite so jarring as reading the passages with images both drawn and taken on film about Afghans being operated on on tables with nothing to protect from the elements never mind a sterile environment.
This is an adventure comic of a different style but if you are ever going to find a way to relate to one I think this may be it.
My copy was second hand and looked brand new, with just a wrinkle on the spine. Always look for a bargain. 5 stars and one I think I will look over again and again.