Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
I was supposed to share this book for our Walking the Literary Silk Road: China and the Middle East reading theme a month ago, but I felt that it would also be a fitting book to feature for our Diversified Reading theme.
The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders
A Story Lived, Photographed and Told by: Didier Lefèvre Written and Drawn by: Emmanuel Guibert Laid Out and Colored by: Frédéric Lemercier Translated from the French by: Alexis Siegel
Published by: First Second (English Translation Copyright) 2009
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library.
The setting of the story takes us back to 1986 when the Soviet forces were still at war with various factions of the Afghan resistance. Alexis Seigel provides a rich introductory contextual information that was an eye-opener for me – as this actually provides some illumination as to what transpired in the United States in September 11, 2001.
This tome of a book is divided into three major parts. The first part provides a detailed introduction and background of the entire team (Doctors without Borders) and introduces the narrator of the story – the immensely talented photographer Didier Lefevre who passed away in 2007. It talks about the team’s gathering point in Pakistan and their preparations as they travel to Afghanistan.
The second part of the book details the entire mission of Doctors without Borders as they travel to a place where no medical doctors would dream of traveling: “To go where no one else wants to go.” The third part of this graphic novel memoir shows Lefevre in all his headstrong French doggedness, leaving the protection of his team (amidst protestations and against the well-meaning advice of the leader of the expedition) to head home on his own, accompanied by a few no-good locals who eventually abandoned him when the going got too tough for them.
There is a cinematic feel to this entire graphic novel, such that even the way the makers of the book were introduced in the story unfolds into the narrative in an almost-theatrical way:
Once in awhile, you hold in your hands such an exquisite piece of art that you just can not help but sigh and be grateful that we live in a world where a book gem like this exists. I have such great admiration for Dr. Juliette Fournot who was leading this humanitarian expedition – she was the only woman (and such a beautiful one, at that) heading a group of predominantly male travelers in a land that is ruled exclusively by men. Her conversation with Didier is one of my favourites:
Her quiet resolve, her facility with the Dari Persian language, and her respectful but authoritative manner has saved the lives of those who are under her leadership as they go on to save more lives in places where no one else would rather go. There should be more books written about this woman.
There were so many emotions that went through me as I was reading this book. I can not forget the rapid beating of my heart as Didier recalled how the shades of Pakistan darkness has transitioned into the darkness of Afghanistan as the team felt their way amidst the shadows and the forbidding gloom surrounding them:
The combination of photographs and artwork is also seamlessly done that one can not help but be in awe of it. This book is truly a category of its own (see below):
I especially loved full spread pages when Didier just shared nothing but his black-and-white photographs, each picture providing a different nuance, a different texture of meaning – successfully telling a story that is best told not through words but through images (see below):
There are also jaw-dropping compositions such as the one below:
or that photo he took in that God-forsaken place where he thought he was going to die:
I couldn’t tear myself away from the third part of the book – I was simply rooted where I was. I had to see it through til the end regardless of the time or the place I was in. I was lost in this book – everything around me faded away. It was that riveting. I can not recommend this book strongly enough. Find it. Read it. Be transformed by it.
Winner of the Essentials of Angoulême award in 2007.
Sounds fascinating! I will go seek it out. Thanks, Myra.
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