NPR’s Scott Simon talks with New Yorker magazine cartoonist Liana Finck about her new book, “Let There Be Light,” a graphic novel adaptation of the Book of Genesis with a female God.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
You’ve heard the stories in Liana Finck’s new graphic novel, “Let There Be Light,” but never quite in the way they’re presented here in words and drawings. God is a woman. She created life and the world, and gets lonely. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, begetting and idol worshipping, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Esau, Noah and his ark of him all appear, reimagined by the artist and writer.
Liana Finck, whose cartoons regularly appear in The New Yorker, joins us now from Brooklyn. Thank you so much for being with us.
LIANA FINCK: Thank you so much for having me.
SIMON: You didn’t come to what are known as the Scriptures exactly as a stranger for this project, did you?
FINCK: No. I was raised Jewish, and I went to Hebrew day school as a kid, and we were relatively observant. We went to synagogue. We did Friday night. I think I’ve been kind of drifting away from it, but also loving the stories, and it put me in a weird position, like where do I get the stories if I’m not observing? And this was my answer.
SIMON: I was very touched by your phrase, when you write about this in the afterword, that you spent – you spent a lot of time – I’ll quote your words to you, “reconciling the timeless parts of Genesis with the horrific parts .”
FINCK: I just kind of gloss over the horrific parts in general. I so much think of the Torah as just a story and, like, a beautiful window into the way people thought thousands of years ago and the way people were thousands of years ago. But in retelling the story as my story, it struck me that I couldn’t tell certain things just straight. Like, I didn’t agree with a lot of the things in there, and it was really my first time reconciling myself to the differences in the way we see things now from the way we did then.
SIMON: I have to ask – why is God a woman and not a genderless, nonbinary entity?
FINCK: It’s a self-portrait. I think I don’t write fiction because I don’t really know how to invent characters. I just know how to put myself into a character. So even when I read the Torah, I can’t really fathom an old man with a beard Creator. I can only fathom kind of a childish, sweet, very flawed person taking a lot of joy in making things and then feeling really angry at herself for not making something better.
SIMON: Well, I mean, to take us through your portrayal a bit, she creates the world and then discovers that she’s lonely. I found that quite moving.
FINCK: I don’t even remember if that’s in the real Torah. It’s so clear to me that that’s how God felt, and that’s why God created humans.
SIMON: And then there’s the comic moment when Adam and Eve come into being, and Eve, she sees she is without clothes. And she feels mortified about something, doesn’t she?
FINCK: Oh yeah, she feels fat.
FINCK: Because apples do have calories. It’s not a perfectly guilt-free food like a carrot. And this is my old, old way of thinking. I don’t think this way anymore. I’ve retired it.
SIMON: I’m interested in – well, at one point, God looks down from her heavens, and she’s just appalled by what she feels humans have made of the world and all the wickedness that’s awash on the globe. She makes what you call a horrendous decision.
FINCK: Yeah. She’s mostly horrified at what men have done. They’re kind of – they’re, like, curse word starters. They like to start things and bad things, and they like murder. They like to get high. They like to have fun in ways that hurt other people. And these people reflect her also. And they lie. Like, she realizes that this exists inside of her if her creations of her are doing this. And she’s always kind of had a crush on men as opposed to women in my story, so that’s the – that’s complicated for her. She loves men and she hates men, and she realizes she has to destroy the world and start over because, of course, the next project that you’ve never – that you haven’t made yet is always potentially perfect, whereas the thing you ‘ve made is not perfect.
SIMON: Well, I’d like you to read the section that we might call Noah and the ark.
(Reading) Our heroine cried for 40 days and 40 nights. God’s love of her creations had eroded imperceptibly over time. There had been the episode with the tree of knowledge and the terrible murder of Abel by Cain, but it was n’t until now that the misery poured out of her in all its brutal force. In other ways, though, she was profoundly happy. The way she felt about Noah, it was a new way to feel. As for Noah, who knows if he felt it, too. He must have felt something, though, all things considered. Finally, it – whatever it was – stopped. She wasn’t crying anymore. She no longer wanted to destroy the world. Then she remembered her friends from her and blew the standing waters away.
SIMON: Notice the product placement for All Things Considered because on the eighth day, God created Susan Stamberg, and it was good in any event.
FINCK: Hmmm. And then there is some Fresh Air.
SIMON: (Laughter) Yes, and then Fresh Air. It all followed up until Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me.
SIMON: God’s work was doing done. You suggest you’re a God that’s not all-powerful, but merely plenty powerful and capable of being vindictive and cruel.
FINCK: And if she is cruel, it’s from love. She just loves this guy, and it’s from expecting a lot. She expected a lot of her humans from her, and they did n’t live up to her expectations from her, so she’s kind of blowing everything up. In the pictures, you can see how clueless she is towards Noah and how he’s really suffering here because he does n’t love her back. Ella she’s too big for him to love.
SIMON: If you’re at a Seder dinner this weekend, will you – as they read from the Haggadah, will you be thinking, oh, I could draw that? I know how I can change that.
FINCK: Yeah. I bet I’ll feel more connected to the Haggadah this year than I usually do. The Seder is so long that I’m usually just focused on my own discomfort than on the words.
SIMON: There are places in the world and people even here you would offend for having the temerity to draw a picture of God and to change the image and to change the words and to change the story.
FINCK: Part of me would like people to notice the book enough to be mad about it – I mean, not too much. Yeah, I would love to ruffle feathers a tiny bit especially because I genuinely like the story as I’m telling it. I’m not telling it to turn my back on my culture. I’m writing it as my way of reconnecting with my culture.
SIMON: Liana Finck’s new graphic novel, “Let There Be Light.” Thank you so much for being with us, and please give our best to your God.
FINCK: This was such a pleasure. Thank you.
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