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Lisa Wool-Rim Sjoblom's Palimpsest

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I read the first twenty pages of Palimpsest when I acquired the book, as it was first published by our dear Swedish pals at Galago. I fell in love with Lisa Wool-rim Sjöblom’s introspection of how being a mother forced her to revisit her own roots as an adoptee, all drawn in gorgeous muted autumnal colors. But...what I thought was a straightforward adoption memoir turned out to be so much more.

First, Lisa is a Korean adoptee growing up in Sweden, growing up daily as a stranger in a strange land. Every day being asked where she comes from. Every day being asked if she is Chinese, Japanese, etc. At the same time, since she was adopted, she is being told to be grateful, to be happy, not to insult your adopted parents, they wanted you when you were unwanted, because of course you should be relieved as you must see it could have been much worse, right?

Could it have been worse growing up in Korea? That is the question Lisa wants to an answer to. With her parents’ blessing she first tries as a teenager, and receives a perfunctory reply.

But the importance of her roots comes back when she starts her own family tree. When she looks into her baby’s face, and she sees for the first time a face that looks like her own, how can her mind not think about her own mother and father?

This is where the book turns into so much more. As Lisa tries to retrace her roots and the international adoption process, she dives headfirst into what some say was the mass exportation of children in South Korea post-war, 200,000 kids placed in international adoption since the 1950's. Lisa learns that the paperwork is often falsified to create a narrative. Luckily for the reader and for other adoptees who will read the book, Lisa isn’t satisfied with that narrative, and won’t stop until she finds the true one.

Palimpsest is an indictment of the Korean adoption system, both international and domestic. Is international adoption just? Should adoptees have the right to know who their parents are? Lisa is now an adoptee rights activitist, working on her second graphic novel.