There is lots to like about Rutu Modan's graphic novel Exit Wounds (translated from Hebrew by Noah Stollman). Aside from the fact I am always pleased to read a work in translation, in this case (even more pleased) to read a work of Israeli fiction, I have finally gotten around to reading a genre that is high on my list of types of literature to explore but I never seem to get around to. I've only read a very small handful of graphic novels and I always forget how very cool they actually are, especially with one like Exit Wounds that is so very well done. This is a story I fell into quite easily and became curiously wrapped up in. Even if this is literally labelled as a comic (Entertainment Weekly called it the "best comic of the year"), it felt in no way fluffy. How strange to think I came to feel very sympathetic towards a comic book character, but I did.
The story is set in modern day Tel Aviv, and while it is very much an Israeli story, the feelings the characters are dealing with are universal. In 2002 (the year of the Second Intifada when there was so much violence and many suicide bombings) Koby Franco is contacted by a female soldier. A suicide bombing had taken place in Hadera and one of the victims remains unidentified. Numi, the soldier, is sure the unidentified victim is Koby's father, with whom he has been estranged for a number of years. Koby is dismayed and annoyed to hear this, particularly since Numi is not forthcoming about what she bases her claims on.
This is almost a mystery really, with the problem to be solved the discovery of the identity of the victim of the bombing. The one clue is a scarf found at the site of the bombing. A scarf well known by Numi and belonging to the dead man, the man she is sure is Koby's father, and the man with whom she had been having an affair. Koby eventually agrees to help Numi on her quest to find answers. A simple blood test is the only thing that needs to happen, but it turns out that the murdered man has already been buried so the quest takes on a different hue when they must go and ask questions. Sometimes the answers reveal hard truths to both searchers. For Koby--why did his father leave him. He seemed to just disappear from his life. And for Numi, what happened to her lover.
You get a real sense of what Koby and Numi are like. Koby, living now with an aunt and uncle and driving a family cab is angry and resentful. And Numi is a woman spurned by her much older lover. Numi is an especially sympathetic character. The daughter of wealthy parents, her sister and mother are beautiful and popular and Numi is tall and gawky. Her fellow soldiers jokingly call her the Giraffe. The two personalities come together and clash and collide and click and then part. This is in a sense, a very unusual love story, yet a very realistic one. The characters aren't beautiful, they are often angry or sad, and this search both brings them together and pushes them apart--very much like real life wherever you live and whatever language you speak. The mystery is solved in an unexpected yet wholly satisfying way.
I won't tell you what happens to Koby and Numi, but I will give you a little virtual nudge to go find a copy of Exit Wounds for yourself. The illustrations are great and there is a Q&A at the end of the book which is very illuminating. Modan was inspired by actual events, a suicide bombing victim which was never identified (how is it possible that someone can go missing in such a way, that no one can claim knowledge of them), yet she fleshed out the story with pure invention. Now I want to read her other graphic novel, The Property. I really like graphic novels and hope not so much passes once again before I read another.