War correspondent Joe Sacco’s graphic novel, Gorazde, is difficult to read. It reports on the experiences of Edin, a Bosnian Muslim, during the siege of Gorazde and describes in text and image the atrocities committed during the siege of the city and of neighboring towns, and of the violence of diplomatic decisions that favoured political expediency over human life and well-being.
As I read the book (in a single sitting, it’s entirely captivating) I asked myself what made the graphic form so effective in expressing the individual and collective suffering as compared to text-based reportage. I’m not sure I have a good answer (again, see my comments on my new-to-graphic-novels) though I suspect that it has to do with pacing. Sacco does well to slow down the pace of reading in scenes of high tension and great suffering, and in so doing required this reader to pay – uncomfortable – attention to scenes I might have more readily surged through in a text-based version. With little choice but to read snippets of sentences set against black-and-white images of intense action, the graphic version demanded my investment in each character, and in each scene that I certainly wanted to avoid reading about.
While I found Sacco entirely effective in using graphics to describe and pace his narrative, I also admired the text of the book, which did an admirable job contextualizing the conflict, while also attending to individual stories and experiences (one two-page spread, in particular, featured a compendium of “interviews” which aptly captured shared and different responses to the return of Serbs to Gorazde).
I’m not sure I appreciated Sacco’s sometime self-congratulatory digs at other reporters who “only” came to Gorazde for one or two days, while he spent considerable time in the city and made multiple trips. I appreciate the difference such reporting experiences must effect in the kind and quality of writing produced, however, I nevertheless felt these comments were less effective in attacking the West’s apparent disinterest in the suffering and death of others (as was perhaps the intent) than they were in conveying Sacco’s confidence in his reportage expertise. While many of Sacco’s self-reflexive comments approach the difficult question of why he should be able to leave and return to safety with little trouble, I do not think the text goes far enough in interviewing the reporter himself.
That said, it’s an incredibly compelling story and one, oddly I suppose, made better still by the difficulty of its reading.