Bad Lands

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Bad Lands

Travels to Challenging Places

There are places that we are advised or warned not to travel to. There are places that are unstable. There are places that are downright dangerous and that should be avoided at all cost. Syria and Mali come to mind. Our Department of State keeps citizens abreast with its list of “Travel Advisories.” It’s usually a good idea to take a look at this service before embarking upon a trip outside the United States. I’ve selected a few graphic novels and one other book to highlight traveling to countries such as these. Some have been in the news recently as trouble spots while others have been in the past but have become safer destinations.

Algeria is Beautiful Like America by Olivia Burton and Mahi Grand
Is there anyone who’s not curious about their family history? Where did my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents come from? What was their life like? What made them leave their homeland? Olivia Burton is no different.This book is a remarkably moving and touching account of young woman’s desire to connect in a real way with her family’s past history. Her maternal grandmother grew up in Algeria and emigrated to France after the Algerian War of Independence. Olivia, much to the chagrin of her mother, travels to Algeria to experience this place that she’s only heard stories about. Her trip brings her face to face with history, identity, place and ultimately the priceless satisfaction of a deeper connection with family lineage and her-story.    

Diario de Oaxaca, Mexico by Peter Kuper 
In this graphic work by alternative comics artist and illustrator Peter Kuper we find him disheartened by the state of American politics during the George W. Bush presidency. Kuper moves his family to Oaxaca, Mexico for two years. Once there, he finds himself and his family in a city that is embroiled in a standoff between the local governor and the teacher’s strike. A violent crackdown ensues leaving an American journalist as well as sixteen others dead. In the midst of this strife, Kuper finds beauty and keeps a sketchbook of the unique Oaxacan environment documenting beaches, stores, dogs, ruins, graffiti, and lots of bugs. LOTS of bugs including the Monarch Butterfly. He and his daughter even make a trip to witness the mass arrival of this incredible migratory insect. This book is filled with thoughtful impressions of the city, state, culture, and countryside and is documented in parallel texts in both English and Spanish.

Pyongyang : A Journey Through North Korea by Guy Delisle
North Korea has been in the news quite a bit over the last couple of years, wouldn’t you say? In 2001, the French Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle traveled to Pyongyang, North Korea on a work visa as part of a international team that worked on an animation project. He was one of the rare westerners allowed into this incredibly secretive country. Delisle’s account perfectly captures what it’s like to visit a complete totalitarian country. From constantly being chaperoned and watched. He completely captures what it’s like to visit a completely secretive and totalitarian society AND he snuck in a copy of 1984. All the more fun.

The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks : Life and Death Under Soviet Rule by Igort

This remarkable book by Italian illustrator Igort is divided into two sections and looks back on two episodes in Soviet/Russian history. The first tells of the famine that was forced upon the Ukrainian people through collectivization by Josef Stalin. It is a part of history that many are unaware of. As many as 5 million Ukrainians starved to death. Beautiful graphics round out and soften a sober and devastating chapter in world history. The second half of the deals with the Chechen crisis.

Tony Wheeler’s Dark Lands by Tony Wheeler
Tony Wheeler and his wife Maureen founded Lonely Planet over 45 years ago after setting out on an epic overland trip from England to Australia. Their brand has become wildly popular and now publishes guidebooks for almost every country and region on the planet. Tony has written a few books recently inspired by then President George W. Bush’s declaration of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the “axis of evil” Tony’s first thought, “I want to go to these countries!” His book is a journey to countries that might not be at the top of many people’s list. Dark Lands takes the reader on a journey to Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Israel & Palestine, Nauru, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe.