by Rutu Modan
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Pub Date 16 Nov 2021 | Archive Date 16 Nov 2021
Drawn & Quarterly, Drawn and Quarterly
A race for the Ark of the Covenant finds an exploration into the ethics and world of the international antiquity trade
When a great antiquities collector is forced to donate his entire collection to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Nili Broshi sees her last chance to finish an archaeological expedition begun decades earlier—a dig that could possibly yield the most important religious artifact in the Middle East. Motivated by the desire to reinstate her father’s legacy as a great archaeologist after he was marginalized by his rival, Nili enlists a ragtag crew—a religious nationalist and his band of hilltop youths, her traitorous brother, and her childhood Palestinian friend, now an archaeological smuggler. As Nili’s father slips deeper into dementia, warring factions close in on and fight over the Ark of the Covenant!
Backed by extensive research into this real-world treasure hunt, Rutu Modan sets her affecting novel at the center of a political crisis. She posits that the history of biblical Israel lies in one of the most disputed regions in the world, occupied by Israel and contested by Palestine. Often in direct competition, Palestinians and Israelis dig alongside one another, hoping to find the sacred artifact believed to be a conduit to God. Two time Eisner Award winner Rutu Modan’s third graphic novel, Tunnels, is her deepest and wildest yet. Potent and funny, Modan reveals the Middle East as no westerner could.
Ishai Mishory is a longtime New York City—and newly Bay Area—based translator and sometimes illustrator. He is currently conducting research for a PhD dissertation on 16th century Italian printing.
"Tunnels is an incisive dig into contemporary Israeli life. It’s rich with human foibles, critical of how both religion and archeological claims shape life along the separation wall, and also an adventure story. Rutu Modan is a gifted storyteller, full of life and humor.”—Nicole Krauss, To Be A Man
“Rutu Modan has written and drawn a deeply modern quest, where the hunt for precious antiquities is complicated by human relationships and real-world politics. Vivid characters vie for control, events take unexpectedly hilarious turns, farce folds in on itself, and a cow jumps over the moon. The most fun I've had reading a graphic novel in years.”—Jason Lutes, https://drawnandquarterly.com/tunnels
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 4 members
Tunnels is the story of rival archaeologists trying to find the Ark of the Covenant somewhere between the borders of Palestine and Israel. Nili and her brother Nimrod have been in conflict within their family for a long time and now they find themselves on opposing archeology teams looking for the Ark. The Ark has great historical and religious significance, so the race to be first is paramount, reputations and family loyalties depend on it!
This was an interesting and entertaining read, the family and professional rivalries kept the story moving along. The illustrations were great 👍
Synopsis: Rutu Modan’s third graphic novel follows explorer Nili Broshi who enlists a motley crew to search for the famed Ark of the Covenant which escalates to heated strifes over who should have it.
My Thoughts: Plot (3.5/5) – The biblical Ark of Covenant is an ancient artifact so legendary that it has inspired countless scholarly discourse and the attention of pop culture regarding its whereabouts including the uber-famous Indiana Jones in the latter department. However, I must give this book props to exploring this longevous object of fascination within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a topic which Israeli-born author Modan is far more knowledgeable in than myself. This is to say I’ll leave any socio-political comments regarding the work’s accuracy to the experts and judge it according to how much I enjoyed the story and characters.
Art (4/5) -- This is probably the most charming element of this entire book as its linge claire art felt very reminiscent of most notably Belgian cartoonist Hergé of Tintin fame, albeit with less of the endearingly smooth character designs from the likes of him.
Pacing (2/5) – This is where I encountered most of the issues I had with Tunnels. The first two acts focus so heavily on the several mundane interpersonal/cultural conflicts that it felt too bloated for its own good, making for some dry reading in a tiresome sense of the word. It wasn’t until the final two acts that the action picks up and becomes more exciting even though the more mundane and intense moments still was uneven.
Characters (2.5/5) – Some of the character interactions seemed to be aping some of the dysfunctional dynamics of the Tintin adventures. The end product is a cast of half-baked emblems because of how much is squeezed into this single installment. The main characters such as Nili, her brother, and mobile game-obsessed yet inquisitive son Doctor were the only ones I would consider fleshed out enough to keep my attention.
Final Thoughts: Tunnels contained all the trapping to a potentially rousing romp but fell short due to its dullness and inconsistent pacing. While I might read Modan’s other Eisner-winning works someday, I’m certainly in no hurry to do so now.
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