Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco

Subtitle: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995.

2000. Fantagraphics Books. 227 pages.

Recommendation from: The Boston Bibliophile


Safe Area Gorazde is fascinating just by being what it is: a journalist’s account of a conflict told to us in graphic novel format.  It makes you want to see how such a thing is done.

In the beginning of his graphic novel, Sacco gave a condensed but informative history of the Balkan conflict, including crucial events that occurred in World War II.  (I read a blog post recently where the blogger said it amazed her how seemingly inexhaustible World War II is as a subject – there are so many different facets that can be examined.)

Sacco also started his novel by describing his 1995 arrival in Goradze via the UN convoy, and introducing the town of Gorazde, and the people who were still there.  Gorazde was one of the villages in Eastern Bosnia that was designated by the UN as a safe area for civilians but was attacked nonetheless by the surrounding Bosnian Serb army.  In many chapters, the graphic novel jumped back in time through the recollections of those who lived in Gorazde during the siege and attacks.  In other chapters, Sacco came back to 1995, and examined how the people of Gorazde viewed the future, now that peace accords were being hammered out.

Sacco has a frank artistic style, and the people depicted were expressive and toothy.  (I don’t know why the teeth really jumped out at me in this graphic novel, but they did.)  The most harrowing portions of the book for me were Sacco’s interviews with the people who had fled to Gorazde from villages that had been “ethnically cleansed.”  An older man from Visegrad described seeing men, women and children killed methodically on a bridge.  Sacco captured the fear and ghastliness of the man’s experiences.

The 1995 chapters are not as bleak, and Sacco works in some understated humor there.  I liked that he interspersed these chapters among the accounts of the war.  I got a little confused with chronology sometimes, but the contrast highlighted by this interspersing of the 1995 ‘peace’ time with the war stories helps in the understanding of both.

What Safe Area Gorazde brought home to me is how quickly neighbor can turn against neighbor and how sad it is when the value of peaceful community is trumped by an aggressive, violent allegiance to a cause or way of seeing things or to “one’s own kind”.

Others’ thoughts:

Boston Bibliophile – “But again it’s his characters who steal the show with their careful, detailed faces. The reader can feel the tension in a basement refuge from something as simple as someone’s slightly downcast eyes or head tilted just so.”

things mean a lot – “. . . Safe Area Goražde is at times an incredibly violent book, but this is the kind of violence that has a clear purpose – it’s not meant to shock, but to shake the reader out of the kind of sense of distance and complacency we tend to slip into far too easily.”

Valentina’s room – “. . . what I loved most was the obvious passion he puts in his work. It’s intimate, detailed, shocking and highly informative.”


Filed under Graphic Novels

4 responses to “Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco

  1. Great review. Sacco is one of my favorite writers and it’s fun to be reminded of the reasons why. I love “The Fixer” – it’s a lot shorter than “Gorazde”, you can probably read it in about 30 minutes. It’s been a while since I’ve read but I remember so many sections of it being just crushingly sad and bleak. (Have I sold you on it yet?) And yeah, his people are very toothy.

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  3. Hi there! I was wondering if I could have some advice about this book! I am a 12th grade World Literature teacher and am currently developing a research project that deals with international conflict. My students will be researching as well as reading a book that deals with the conflict in a personal level. I wanted to give them the option to read Safe Area, but I do not yet have my hands on a copy. Before my department head orders a bunch, I am curious as to the “graphic” nature of the book – graphic being the gore and violence etc. Are the pictures graphic in nature and possibly difficult for a 17 year old to handle? Or is the conversation and narrative the only explicit part?
    When researching the conflict in Bosnia, I first came across Fax from Sarajevo, another graphic journalism piece, but amazon reviews led me to consider Safe Area instead.

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