Palimpsest is a challenging graphic novel and memoir about the struggle of a Korean-Swedish trans-racial adoptee to uncover her roots and come to terms with her identity – and unethical practices that the adoption industry would rather remain obscured. The book’s title, defined in preface, is symbolic: “a very old text or document in which writing has been removed and covered or replaced by new writing.” And the story that follows is fittingly permeated with texts, many of them copied word-for-word from original documents pertaining to Sjöblom’s adoption, with focus on their censorship and manipulation.
Though her artistic style is simple and muted, Sjöblom reproduces the labyrinth of information unearthed in the search for her birth mother with incredible detail, and the cartoon faces she uses carry heavy emotions below their cute surfaces. Her journey of discovery has its highs and lows intermixed. A visit to South Korea creates as many questions about her identity as it solves, but also an unexpectedly powerful sense of cultural belonging: “In Sweden I’m at home, but I feel like a stranger. In Korea, I’m a stranger, but I feel at home.” Although ethically questionable trans-racial adoption is becoming a better-known issue, it’s still striking and significant to see stories like this one being shared by adoptees.