Friday, November 6, 2009

A Journey Into 1986 War-torn Afghanistan

“The mother said to me, ‘Film it, Jamila. People have to know’” (Guibert, 136).

In 1986 French photographer Didier Lefèvre decides to become a part of a humanitarian expedition of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as they risk their lives to build a hospital in Afghanistan, a country in the midst of war with the Soviet Union. The non-fiction graphic novel titled The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders illustrated by Emmanuel Guibert tells the story of this incredible journey.

The initial caravan consists of approximately one hundred donkeys, twenty horses and one hundred men, including forty armed fighters. Together this crew travels on foot from Pakistan to Zaragandara, Afghanistan, a trip lasting several weeks. High mountains and rocky terrain make traveling extremely difficult. While it’s excruciating for the team, it’s even harder on the animals, and many die along the way. In addition to the fierce environment, the crew must always be on the lookout for Russian troops and land mines.

When the crew finally reaches its destination, a one-room hospital is created. Immediately injured fighters and ill townspeople flock to the location. Throughout this entire journey, Didier photographs the Afghani people, their homes and their country and is able to witness first-hand their extraordinary culture, consideration, religion and ways of life. He captures the fleeting moments of dying children, praying soldiers and brilliant doctors.

After a few months, Didier decides his mission is complete and he’s anxious to return to Paris. He convinces his friends to let him make the journey back to Pakistan alone. He is provided guides, but is deserted along the way. He encounters thieves, soldiers, and wretched weather and is forced to leave his dying horse behind. Didier believes he will die alone among the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan and takes some final pictures to mark the end of his journey.

Does Didier survive? Read this amazing graphic novel to find out!

I’ve never been a fan of graphic novels, yet each time I’m forced to read one I’ve never been disappointed. The photographs in this book are amazing and really capture the life and passion of the Afghani people. This book is not for feeble minds or young children; I would recommend this only for seniors. There are occasional bad words and some disturbing photos, and readers must understand the history of Afghanistan at this time. However through Didier’s photographs and the illustrations, readers are drawn into not just the plot but also the Afghanistan culture. I think this book would be excellent in either a history class or even an art class that is studying photography. I don’t really think I’d recommend this in an English class unless the teacher was coordinating with the history teacher so the students had a good understanding of the issues and background surrounding this book including teenage soldiers, Muslim beliefs, poverty, and drug lords – just to name a few.

Overall, this is an incredible story of bravery and passion, but readers should be aware of its PG-13 rating.


Donna N said...


After reading your blog, I am inclined to read this book at some point as well. You described Didier's journey very well and I am curious whether or not he survived. I might also recommend it to my daughter's American Studies teachers. It is a combined english and history class that is taught by a team of two teachers. They tend to tackle real life issues like you described in your blog.


Anne said...

Great blog. Now I am getting a sense of how to post mine! The fact that there are actual photographs in this books I think would help students a lot; it would give them a sense of reality in Didier's journey.

Tom Philion said...

nice job embedding the video, amy!

sounds like a great resource, as you say, for current events or contemporary history.

maybe could go along with the kite runner, which is often taught in schools and in English courses?


Amy said...

Oh, good idea about incorporating it with The Kite Runner! I love that book and I think this would definitely be a good companion book.