Ulli Lust, a 2013 Los Angeles Times book prize winner for her graphic novel Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, is revisiting her past with her newest book How I Tried to Be a Good Person. The graphic novel is a memoir, like Lust's first book, and according to Fantagraphics is “a story of sexual obsession, gender conflict, and self-liberation.”
Lust finds herself in a polyamorous courtship with Georg, her overall perfect partner — except in sex — and Kimata, her overall perfect lover — only in sex. The combination of the two seems to satisfy Lust's emotional and physical needs. The author admits that, “against all expectations, it worked surprisingly well for a long period of time. Until madness took over”. The book chronicles that descent. Out in German in 2017, the book was translated by Nika Knight and published in English this year by Fantagraphics Books.
When it comes to translations, one might worry about original meanings or phrases getting lost between the shifting of languages, but Lust found the process to be overall enjoyable and is pleased with the outcome. She is no stranger to her works facing translation, but says that “the English translation is the only one I can check. We worked on the mistakes — German is a language with many words, and on top, many words change their meaning according to context. I am quite happy with the English edition."
While the overall context of the story might not have changed, one significant difference might become apparent to readers from the start: the cover is vastly different.
Lust was a bit puzzled as to why the American publisher, Fantagraphics wanted to use a separate image, but felt that it also “visualizes a core of the plot quite well." As time passes and the story progresses, Lust’s and Kimata’s relationship grows increasingly tumultuous, with warning signs of abuse cropping up through the pages. It isn’t until Kimata physically attacks Lust that she begins to fear for her life. The image on the cover of the English translation is taken from the page in the graphic novel where the story begins to foreshadow the troubled relationship.
Lust doesn’t gloss over the negative aspects of her life during this period, explaining “in the case of storytelling: If we wouldn’t have had problems, it wouldn’t have been a good story.” Domestic violence, sexual liberation, and relationships alternative to the monogamous model are complex topics, but Lust wanted to write about her experiences with them. Her desire to write about this difficult age in her life stemmed from the fact that “some of the questions we have to face in modern society are negotiated — the monogamous relational model, intercultural relationships, female sexuality, the expectations of society to women and mothers, and unfortunately also domestic violence”.
Lust’s graphic novel is an honest report that forces readers to consider their own viewpoints and beliefs and analyze how their ideals may mesh or contrast with hers. One overall takeaway she hopes readers consider is the importance of perspective.
She points readers toward page 89 and 90 where, “as a rebellious teenager, I once lay drunk on the floor of a subway station in the middle of my punk friends and looked at the passers-by from below. The view was fascinating. I thought, 'Wow, I should change my perspective more often.' I felt free and life was exciting. At the same time an old-school friend exited that subway station. She recognized me and passed by, embarrassed. Later, she told me, ‘I was shocked, I felt sorry for you.’ On the next page, years later, I will be sitting on a cupboard in my apartment, a meditative act to try a new perspective”.
Find Ulli Lust online at www.ullilust.de.
Mercedes is a lazy reader with an interest in postcolonialism, graphic novels, and anything cat related.