Amy Kurzweil: Flying Couch

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday October 6, 2016

Flying Couch, Amy Kurzweil’s debut graphic memoir, tells the stories of three unforgettable women. Amy weaves her own coming-of-age as a young Jewish artist into the narrative of her mother, a therapist, and Bubbe, her grandmother, a World War II survivor who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto by disguising herself as a gentile.

Captivated by Bubbe’s story, Amy turns to her sketchbooks, teaching herself to draw as a way to cope with what she discovers. Entwining the voices and histories of these three wise, funny, and very different women, Amy creates a portrait not only of what it means to be part of a family, but also of how each generation bears the imprint of the past.

We follow Amy from her early years as a slightly neurotic “child of strange preoccupations,” and a bad sleeper, who calls for her “Mmmooooommmmmm” when she thinks her eyesight is being attacked by a spreading black field of goo. Her mom, a psychotherapist, introduces Amy to the idea of reclining on a couch, talking about stuff, and allowing the mind to travel to all sorts of places. After a few not unexpected bumps, the seeds of self-discovery are sown. The girl moves on.

Several chapters later, after Amy’s beloved Bubbe is introduced during a family visit to her home in Bloomfield Hills, the college-age Amy by now has taken the story of her wacky, fun-loving Bubbe’s escape from the Holocaust as a metaphor for her own need to escape the life of uncertainty and doubt she has, so far inhabited. She takes up her Jewish roots as a way to forge her own identity as a female Jewish artist.

In a hilarious section during which Amy attends a University-Wide Identity Fair, she is greeted by signs inviting White People Who Care About Africa; Lesbian Activists; and Jews (Various), among others, to join various tightly-knit orgs. After a whirlwind imaginary tour of religious, political and psycho-social aspects of Jewishness, with its time-honored cast of characters (Jacob, Freud and Herzel) Amy realizes, “But I just want to draw pictures.” She breaks free and departs this mental zone with Will Eisner, Art Spigelman and Harvey Pekar at her back.


And draw she does. The book’s oversize format allows a mature Amy, the artist and writer, to create an arsenal of graphic devices to make connections between diverse situations in moment-to moment-encounters as well as sections that reach across time. The Amy character’s mantra, “If I could draw,” becomes a hinge for unfolding different elements of her story from time to time, adding to the richness of the ideas she explores. At her artist’s desk, she muses, “I spend more time with figments than people. What’s more real, a person or a symbol?” In addition, Amy the author uses hand-drawn maps almost as gridlines to keep the many places she travels in line. 

A retelling of an inherited Holocaust narrative now two generations removed, Flying Couch uses Bubbe’s real testimony in the form of typewritten fragments from her diary to investigate the legacy of trauma, the magic of family stories, and the meaning of home—a hard-won legacy earned through Amy’s persistence and stubborn willingness to always keep trying.

Flying Couch: A Graphic Memoir (Catapult 2016)  by  Amy Kurzweil will be launched in New York with a reading and book signing on Monday, October 10th, 7 pm at Book Court, 163 Court Street , Brooklyn, NY. Info After party to follow at 61 Local. Amy’s mom will be there! More about the book tour here

Amy Kurzweil’s comics have been published in The New Yorker and appear regularly in the Huffington Post. Her series GutterFACE is hosted by the literary webcast drDOCTOR. Her prose has appeared in The Toast, Hobart, Washington Square and other publications. Kurzweil has a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from The New School. In 2013, she was the recipient of a Norman Mailer Fellowship. She teaches writing and comics at Parsons The New School for Design and at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She lives in Brooklyn. Visit her on her website