The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders by Didier Lefevre & Emmanuel Guilbert. illustrated by Frederic Lemercier, introduction and translated by Alexis Siegel
Pages: 267 pgs.
First Published: May, 2009 (English translation) (2003-2006 orig. French)
"I say good-bye to everyone."
Reason for Reading: Cybils nominee
Summary: Photographer Didier Lefevre was offered to accompany the MSF (the original French version of Doctors Without Borders) on a 3 month mission to Afghanistan in 1986 when the Soviet-Afghan War was raging. The book tells of his journey from Pakistan to the mission site in Afghanistan, his stay and his decision to make the journey back to Pakistan alone which almost cost him his life.
Comments: An incredibly brilliant, powerful work of art! At first I thought this was going to be about current affairs in Afghanistan, so was quite surprised to find the memoir taking place during the Soviet era invasion of Afghanistan. The graphical presentation, the artwork is phenomenal. A very unique combination of cartooning and photographs have been combined together which at first, I admit, put me a bit off kilter but once I got used to the presentation I found myself seeing real life images even when I was looking at an illustration. An odd sensation but extremely well done. The authors/illustrator portray so much on the journey: the beauty of the land, the terror of illegally crossing the border, traveling under cover of night, watching for Soviet planes to drop bombs on them if sighted.
Then at the medical camp there is the large amount of local people coming for help for such things as a humongous cancerous tumour on a toe, a foot that is so rotted the man has pulled it off that morning and asks if they can put it back on for him; then the war wounded come in: a child with half his face blown off, a man with shrapnel in his back, a paralyzed girl with one tiny piece of shrapnel that has severed her spinal cord. The photographs, the text, the illustrations capture the spirit, the agony, the willpower, the drive of the doctors who come to work here in non sterile makeshift tents to treat these people, sometimes just so they can die with dignity.
Didier's journey back is even worse than coming as he has had enough at the end of the three months when he finds that the team is going to be staying an extra week so with some guidance to a nearby town where he will be certain to get a guide he sets off on his to journey back to Pakistan. Didier finds that without the resources and experiences of the "pros" he accompanied on the way out there he is a walking target and with exposure to criminals, crooked cops and the elements he almost loses his life. A magnificent, compelling story that concentrates on human relations and interactions without getting political. The political situation is discussed in the beginnings of the book to set the reader in the situation as it is happening but the focus of the book is people, how they treat each other both good and bad in situations both large and small. Highly recommended!