Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders - Didier Lefevre and Emmanuel Guibert

 Over the last year or two, I've really become enamoured with graphic novels.  Reading via visuals just tweaks a different side of my brain and offers a whole new literary experience.  So then Marie (Boston Bibliophile) did a little feature on various books about the war in Afghanistan, and she mentioned a book that was both a photographic memoir and a graphic novel.  Yes!  This is absolutely what I needed to read.

Synopsis:  In 1986, the organization of Doctors Without Borders (DWB) hired Didier Lefevre, a French journalist, to document one of their trek deep into northern Afghanistan to set up a clinic.  

Of course, it isn't so easy as jumping on a few horses and heading out.  The team of DWB, while experienced in Afghan customs and language, are not local.  They must secure mules and horses, food, and local guides to "sneak" the team past various gun-wielding soldiers.  En route they must navigate land mines, Russian helicopters, food shortages, exposure, and exhaustion.  All of this is documented through photographs and expertly-drawn graphics of Lefevre's experience. 
Along the way, and once at the destination of the clinic, there is the actual work at hand that inspires the passion to make it all worthwhile...the caring for the injured and sick.  Surgeries performed on a dirty front porch, with no light or sterilization methods.  Landmine victims, gunshot wounds, infections, dysentery.  Some victims children, some victims that would kill the doctors if they were healthy.  

Fed up with the deplorable living conditions and having finished his goal of documenting DWB's work, Lefevre decides to return to civilization on his own.  Therein begins his real adventure.

My thoughts:  This book simply took my breath away.  Graphic novels always have a big impact on me because of their visual nature, but combined with actual photographs, it doesn't get any more stunning than this.  The dichotomy of poverty, illness and war paired up with individual acts of kindness and a beautiful is incredibly memorable in this format.

The story inspires awe.  The dedication of these doctors to fulfill their Hippocratic Oath in this devastated country is the epitome of passion.  But let's up the ante a bit here...the leader of the mission is a woman.  In a country that views women as objects somewhere between dog poo and a piece of furniture.  Can we get a fist pump ladies?  

I was stunned to find out that in 2009 Lefevre died of heart failure at the age of 49. Still, for a photographic memoir, this book sold an unprecedented number of copies in France, has been translated in a number of languages and has won all kinds of awards.  As it should be.  This was his memoir, and I felt I got to know him, so learning of his death made me so sad.

My only complaint is that some of the photograph strips were small, and were hard to see.  Some were enlarged, but I wanted more.  Lefevre's black and white photos were stunning.  I have to imagine that his work would be well-supported by an exhibition.  Someone should get to work on that, and bring it on over to the US.  

Once you start this book, you won't be able to put it down until it is finished.  I think as a country who has dedicated so many lives to the war in Afghanistan, it is our duty to better understand what is going on over there, and appreciate the sacrifices made by Doctors Without Borders.  

5 out of 5 stars


bermudaonion said...

That sounds fantastic! You inspired me to check our library, and they don't have the book. :(

Anonymous said...

I just bought an incredible graphic book titled Journalism by Joe Sacco. The depth of war correspondence is astonishing. It makes the situation in th the middle east easy to understand and very visual. It would be an excellent history book.

I am going now to check your book out. Thanks for the review.

Beth F said...

I wasn't even remotely interested in this one until I read your review. I'll have to see if I can get it at the library.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I loved the idea of that mixed format!

Julie P. said...

Wow -- just wow!

caite said...

5 out of 5? now what am I suppose to

Alyce said...

Wow! It looks like such a powerful book! I'll be seeing if I can find this one locally.

Zibilee said...

Oh wow, this does sound like it's really powerful, and a makes for a crazily intriguing read. I love the excitement and awe that you showed for the book in your review. It's often those kinds of things that I pick up on that make me go searching the library or bookstore. Great job with this one today. It sounds like an unforgettable read.