Honestly, Joe and Azat was my very first graphic novel, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect. My impression of graphic novels was always that, well, they’re geeky.
High school kids standing next to me on the Orange Line while I read it confirmed this rather common assumption. I got quite a few odd looks and giggles. Yet Joe and Azat was a damn cool book—a captivating story about an American working for the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan. There was no mention of any of the actual work he did, just several funny stories that illustrate the cultural differences he experienced. Jesse Lonergan tells a story loosely based on his own experience in the former USSR through the tales of Joe and his Turkmen best friend, Azat. And the book was also educational. I learned about Turkmen drinking customs, marriage rituals, politics and driving habits. And that it’s usually a good idea to pay with exact change there. I also learned how much money it might take in order to bribe a police officer into returning a lost American passport so he doesn’t sell it in the black market.
Lonergan’s simple black-and-white line drawings made great visuals. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes to laugh, likes culture or who doesn’t really like reading, because the sweet pics do a lot of the work for you.
Never mind the gawkers. [ANNA MARDEN]