Tunnels reviewed in The Reporter

Tunnels Review

Jewish Federation of Greater Binghamton’s The Reporter    |    Rabbi Rachel Esserman    |    December 17, 2021

When I read a novel about the search for the lost Ark of the Covenant, I expect the plot to head in one of two directions: either stark realism or otherworldly mysticism. Rutu Modan’s graphic novel “Tunnels” (Drawn and Quarterly) leans toward the former, but some of its characters focus on the latter. What the graphic novel does best is offer a view of the many different facets of contemporary Israeli society. Nili, the novel’s main character, finally sees a chance to continue the archeological expedition her father began decades before, but had to stop for political reasons. He was searching for the lost Ark of the Covenant, which Nili believes she will find if she can continue in the tunnel they explored when she was a child. She doesn’t have enough money to hire a regular crew to do the work. Instead, she finds a religious nationalist, who brings with him a group of young men who believe finding the ark will bring about the coming of the messiah. But their work does not go unnoticed: Nili’s father’s archrival at the university wants Nili’s brother to spy on her so he can claim the find. Nili also reunites with a childhood friend, a Palestinian whose father used to work on the dig, something that adds yet another dimension to the work. “Tunnels” does a wonderful job allowing readers to feel not only a sense of place, but gives insight into some of its characters’ lives. The plot is more complex than that of many graphic novels, but it’s never too difficult to follow. Its inclusion of Jewish legends and contemporary politics creates an excellent mix. My only complaint is that the print dialogue is smaller than I would have liked, but I found it easier to read as my eyes grew used to it. There are some interesting plot twists and the work’s conclusion was a wonderful surprise.

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