The emotional memories of an elderly German woman are brought vividly to life in this quietly moving graphic story
In books, people don’t wear masks – or not yet. All the same, as I turned the pages of The Summer of Her Life, a graphic novel set largely in a care home for elderly people, I had the strangest feeling it must be some kind of publishing miracle: a comic written, drawn, edited and now published entirely during the lockdown. Crikey, but it’s prescient. At a time when the old have never been more vulnerable and, in many cases, lonely, here is a befitting reminder that the frail souls you see sitting in a semi-circle in a day room on the TV news, their eyes distant and their hair like candy floss, do not necessarily feel as you think they look. Somewhere inside, they’re all the things they used to be: young, ambitious, just about to fall in love.
Gerda Wendt, the story’s unlikely heroine, is so debilitated these days, she sometimes struggles even to raise her arms for her daily flannel wash. To move from bed to window, she requires a walker; to make journeys any further afield, she cannot do without a wheelchair. But her mind is beautifully intact. Unlike some of her fellow residents, men who are mostly quite content to watch repeats of crummy TV dramas (so long as the girls are pretty), she would rather scroll through her memories, back to her girlhood and forward to her middle age. How, she wonders, did she get from A to B? Was her life well-lived? In her salad days, self-doubting and impulsive, she chose love over her career, her passion for a musician called Peter triumphing over her passion for astrophysics – and she worries away at this now, a process that is sometimes delicious (here she is, in bed with him all over again) and sometimes painful (sudden betrayal is piercing even remembered at a distance of half a century). Continue reading...