The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

The Book of Sarah by Sarah Lightman

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Review by Marjorie Tesser

 

Raised in an observant Jewish household, Sarah Lightman realized that her biblical namesake, matriarch of her people, did not have a book of the bible named for her. In recognition and remedy, Lightman has named her book The Book of Sarah. The book is an idiosyncratic coming of age memoir in words and pictures, beginning at age ten. The quest for identity is a continuing thread as the narrative traces the author’s spiritual, social, and psychological evolutions in conjunction with her development and identity as an artist and, eventually, a feminist, mother and partner.

Physically, the book is handsome, a hard-covered volume with silky gloss paper and full color art. A dual exploration, of heritage and self, informs the work. In art school, young Sarah began a project, a ‘Scroll of Sarah,” by pointing out the fact that she shared a name with two great-grandmothers. But she questioned her own endeavor. “I asked myself, how could I draw a book of my life, when I didn’t know who I was? If I couldn’t hear my own voice over all those that surrounded me?” (23).

As a young woman, she had a chance to live in New York, but still did not feel a sense of agency. “…I was waiting for permission to start my life” (78). She reiterates her frustration with her young self, observing, “I was a free animal who, having spent her whole life caged, would only walk in circles in this time of freedom, missing the protective walls of her enclosure” (88).

How much of her timidity was fostered by her upbringing? “You should know there is a history of parental intervention in my family…” as both her mother and her father had had their aspirations halted by disapproving parents (95). The author also has had to wrestle with periodic bouts of depression.

The author says of herself, “Things and spaces speak to me” (123). She makes them speak to the reader as well. Images of houses and apartments, book covers, and objects reverberate with emotion. A set of dining room chairs elucidates a family dynamic. A recurring trope of water glasses at half-mast cleverly illustrates emotional undercurrents. A series of self-portraits exposes fixations and depression.

(Note: Sarah Lightman’s drawings have been the subject of a Mom Egg Review Gallery feature, and may be viewed here).

The Book of Sarah is a story of one woman’s journey which will resonate with anyone who has struggled to achieve authenticity and power as a person and as an artist. Its honest, nuanced content can spark analysis, comparisons, and identification.

 

The Book of Sarah
by Sarah Lightman
Penn State University Press (2019)
Hardcover, 240 pp.
ISBN 9781908434517

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