THE BOOK OF SARAH
by Sarah Lightman
The Pennsylvania University Press, 237 pages
reviewed by Emily Steinberg
Sarah Lightman’s poignant, engrossing and poetic graphic memoir, The Book of Sarah , leads the reader on an epic odyssey, moving back and forth in time, from the author’s early twenties as an uncertain, dependent, and depressed young artist to a confident forty-five-year-old woman who is finally the architect of her own life.
Raised in England in a traditional Jewish family, Lightman perfectly plays the role of the sheltered, good daughter, but is squelched, suffocated and empty inside. She became more Orthodox as a way to feel part of something larger. She wrote to me in an email, “I had great feelings of inadequacy and no idea about how to navigate life. I think religion can tell you how to live and it is easier than that long, painful journey of working out who you are and making up your own mind about things.” A late bloomer, she eventually discovered she no longer needed the architecture of orthodoxy and began building a “scaffolding of self” with permission to live her own life.
The heart of Lightman’s book is her art, and the black and white graphite drawings of architecture and often overlooked everyday objects are particularly forceful and beautiful. Intensely drawn, with energetic, almost obsessive marks and stark contrast of dark and light, we view sides of buildings with fire escapes, exteriors of family homes and dining-room table and chairs, interiors and exteriors of her boarding school outside London, her books, her therapist’s office, chairs and shoes.
Lightman writes and draws about being a young artist, anxiously uncertain of her abilities.
She writes beautifully of the overlapping of life events , or as she puts it, “The maths of life. A birth. A death. A Marriage. A death. Someone’s happiness. Someone else’s tears.” She seeks love and relationship, but doesn’t know herself and so can’t know another.
Life evolves. She finds Charlie and has a Traditional Jewish Wedding. Then, her Grandfather is in Hospital and “we visit him everyday and read him psalms.” She muses about motherhood at thirty-six, describing her son Harry’s arrival and what was like to be a new mom.
Life isn’t perfect for Lightman, but she finds a place of contentment that is enough. While searching for a scaffolding to build her life on, we see it was there all along in her art and in The Book of Sarah, Lightman leads us to a place that is both gorgeous and profound.
Sarah Lightman is an artist who writes, draws and paints about her life experiences. She is co-founder of “Laydeez do Comics,” an international forum for women comics artists and editor of the incredible Graphic Details: Jewish Women’s Confessional Comics in Essays and Interviews, (2014), a collection of the work of eighteen international Jewish female auto-bio comics artists. She earned a PhD from The University of Glasgow in the field of Women’s Autobiographical Comics.
Emily Steinberg is a painter and graphic novelist and has shown her work in the United States and Europe. Most recently, she has been named Humanities Scholar in Residence at Drexel College of Medicine where she will teach medical students how to draw their own stories in words and images. Her visual narratives No Collusion! (2018), Paused (2018), Berlin Story: Time, Memory, Place (2017), A Mid Summer Soirée (2015), Broken Eggs (2014), and The Modernist Cabin (2013) have been published in Cleaver Magazine. Her graphic novel memoir, Graphic Therapy, was published serially in Smith Magazine, her short comic, Blogging Towards Oblivion, was included in The Moment (Harper/Collins). She earned her M.F.A. and B.F.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a lecturer in Fine Art at Penn State Abington. You can see more of her work at emilysteinberg.com. To submit graphic narratives for consideration in Cleaver, contact Emily at [email protected].