Palimpsest. By Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom. Drawn & Quarterly, 2019. ISBN 978-1770463301, US$24.95. 156 pages.
This aggrieved and bitter memoir depicts the infuriating process of trying to dig up information about a transnational adoption. The author was adopted from Korea to Sweden as an infant — a transaction shrouded in misinformation — and Palimpsest recounts her trip to Korea to find her birth mother and piece together the whole story. This quest is thwarted again and again by contradictions, evasions, and outright lies.
Much of Palimpsest’s narrative consists of correspondence, documents (usually reproduced in the author’s hand), and conversations — often confrontational ones, yet conveyed with a sort of unvarying graphic blandness. I found the book thematically compelling but also a tough, arrhythmic slog: more of a self-justifying argument than an evocative story about people, and hampered by an inexpressive, faux-naive style despite a beautiful overall aesthetic. Though the book talks about raw feelings, it consists mainly of constrained encounters between generically vague characters. The constant first-person narration is intense but not self-critical, and the other characters are mostly functionaries, save for a haunting depiction of the author’s birth mother. The story’s ending is powerfully sad, though Sjöblom's perspective on it struck me as stubbornly one-sided.
I'm not sure that's a fair critique. After all, it's hard to gainsay an author's account of personal experience. Maybe I shouldn't. But I found the book's lack of self-reflection frustrating.
Perhaps I’m just too used to self-deprecating, self-accusing autobiography? Palimpsest is something else. Still, I read it in one overtired late-night sitting despite its relative density (for a comic). The urgency of its political agenda kept me engaged. Its subject matter — the ethical and legal quagmire of international adoption — is tough and vital. Not a great comic in my opinion, nor a complex, self-knowing memoir, but a fierce expose. If Sjöblom's artistic choices sometimes damp down the book's power, what comes across is still raw: a cry of outrage and pain.
Drawn & Quarterly provided a review copy of this book.