Distilled from thousands of diary drawings begun in her parents’ garden shed back in 1996, Sarah Lightman's The Book of Sarah is an alternative bible to the one she moved away from, along with the religious Jewish lifestyle she followed as a teenager.
The Book of Sarah is missing from the bible, so artist Sarah Lightman sets out to make her own: questioning religion, family, motherhood and what it takes to be an artist in this quietly subversive visual autobiography from NW3.
Drawings of an imaginary Hampstead bible, a baby monitor, the local landscape of Ellerdale Road and the outside of St Paul’s Girls’ School: books and streets, buildings and objects fill this bildungsroman set in North West London. Sarah Lightman has been drawing her life since she was a 22-year-old undergraduate at The Slade School of Art. The Book of Sarah traces her journey from modern Jewish orthodoxy to a feminist Judaism, as she searches between the complex layers of family and family history that she inherited and inhabited. While the act of drawing came easily, the letting go of past failures, attachments and expectations did not. It is these that form the focus of Sarah’s astonishingly beautiful pages, as we bear witness to her making the world her own.
The Book of Sarah will be published by Myriad in 2019.
Dr Ruth Gilbert, University of Winchester14 January 2019
In this intense and beautiful visual memoir, text and images are placed in dialogue with breath-taking eloquence. At the heart of the book is an exploration of family and culture, circling around the central question of where a collective and inherited sense of personhood ends and the self begins. Lightman comes to an understanding that ‘I am just a stitch in my family’s intricately woven history’ but the ‘self-scribed’ Book of Sarah shows the painful tensions in play as an individuated self begins to emerge from these tightly woven threads of connection.
Through a delicate interweaving of images (ranging from the architectural, loose outlines, fractured repetitions and empty spaces) and text, the reader becomes immersed in this deeply considered reflection of gender and cultural identity. In its spirit of perpetual enquiry, it is an intensely Jewish book; but the questions it asks, about being and belonging, speak to the wider concerns of twenty-first century life.
As it evokes the subtle transmissions of postmemory and intergenerational hauntings, the younger Sarah becomes herself a kind of a ghost, lingering within her own narrative until she can be released into the present tense. This is an achingly poignant, profoundly moving and, ultimately, hopeful book.