Translated from German by John Reddick

The road to my discovering a new publisher is usually via some German connection and my discovery of SelfMadeHero, publisher of graphic novels, is a case in point.

It is definitely an age-thing, but I’m developing a fixation on elderly protagonists. I come to The Summer of Her Life after reading 3 novels thus far in 2021 featuring toxic grandmothers! I am pleased to report that there’s not a drop of toxicity in Gerda Wendt, rather an awful lot of fragility.

Gerda (84) is living in a care home. She’s not very mobile, and struggles to raise her arms high for the daily flannel wash. Her mind, though, is still active. Feeling as she does on the first page,

it’s unsurprising that she reminisces on her past, when life was full of stimulus and delight. Nights admiring the starry skies with her father nurturing an interest in science, leading to a promising career in astrophysics. The enchantments of falling in love … and the summer when there were options and key decisions to be made. The joys of life, and the disappointments too: a world which demanded much more from female scientists, and one which could inflict the devastation of romantic betrayal. Nevertheless this was life, her life, and feeling the pain of the bittersweet moments means she is living once more.

There isn’t much text and the book is only 80 pages long, but what is there is exceptionally moving. Barbara’s Yelin’s empathetic and detailed illustrations reflect emotional tones in all their variations. The complementary colour palettes of past and present emphasise that events relived can be just as vivid as when they were first experienced. When past and present are illustrated on the same page, the tragic difference between the vividness of the memories (the activity of the mind) and the banal reality of the present (physical limitations of age) is clearly manifest.

In a way Gerda is, following the advice of her father, joining the dots to see the picture of her life. Yet there is a hope-enabling repetition of this event towards the end of her life. For despite the shutting down of all options and one inevitable outcome, this is both a poignant and comforting read.

SelfMadeHero’s mission is to publish ground-breaking and beautiful work by authors and artists from across the globe, from the quirky and humorous to the political and profound. Founded in 2007, SelfMadeHero was the UK Young Publisher of the Year in 2008.

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