Harvey Pekar was the subject and co-star of the 2003 Oscar-nominated film American Splendor, an adaptation of his comic books about being poor, Jewish, and Middle American. Until his death in 2010, he made a career out of writing what he calls “an autobiography written as it’s happening.”
Pekar’s new memoir, published posthumously, is a mix of personal, political, and historical writing. In Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, Pekar tells the story of Israel, as well as the story of his own upbringing.
Born in 1939, Pekar was raised by secular Zionist parents and fed a steady diet of Israeli and socialist idealism. He develops a complicated view of the Jewish state, one that doesn’t fall neatly along the lines of “anti-Occupation” or “pro-Settlement.” After the Six-Day War, for example, Pekar describes his conflicting emotions–pride at Israel’s victory, and disgust at the sudden homelessness of thousands of Arabs.
Israel is told over the course of a day, as JT Waldman, a young comic artist, follows Pekar around his native Cleveland. As they romp around town, Pekar tells his own version of Israel’s history–a ragged, feisty retelling, like your favorite grumpy history teacher. The story of the Jewish state intersects with Pekar’s own story in unexpected ways, from their respective adolescent crises (Pekar’s teenage-hood and Israel’s Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War), to their problems at achieving legitimacy from others.