Preoccupied with My Father.


56 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 978-1-55022-810-6
DDC 741.5'971





Reviewed by Tami Oliphant

Tami Oliphant is a Ph.D. candidate in Library and Information Studies at the University of Western Ontario.


Preoccupied with My Father is an unusually poetic graphic memoir devoted to Simon Schneiderman’s father, Yoel. Using drawings, paintings, poetry, and prose, Schneiderman depicts his father’s journey from an athletic youth in Warsaw to a dying man strong of mind but weak of body living in Canada. Along his life’s journey, Yoel and the woman who would become Simon’s mother survived the Holocaust (although most members of their respective families, including previous spouses and other children, did not). The two married, Yoel became a tailor, and the young family moved to Canada and settled in Montreal.


Schneiderman is a lawyer who taught himself how to paint, and “twenty years later, everything he learned was applied to this book.” And it shows. Although this memoir is physically small, the emotional and psychological responses to the expressionistic visuals loom large for the reader. Page 18, for example, is a simple coloured drawing showing three isolated, ghostlike figures huddled together in a large room with the accompanying text: “Wed in a DP camp, my parents arrived in Halifax with only one surviving child. The ship was the Protea and it was December 23, 1951.” The emotion the deceptively simple illustration and prose imparts is significant.


Schneiderman uses a variety of mediums and methods—pen and ink, painting, drawing, and colouring—to depict Yoel’s experiences before and after the war. Although Schneiderman’s paintings, particularly the portraits, are vivid and rich, his Chagall-like drawings are a highlight.


The word “preoccupied” in the title hints at the abstract—at being lost in thought. Yoel’s experiences haunted him throughout his life and this preoccupation has subsequently been passed down to Simon, who has endeavoured to honour his father’s life. Preoccupied with My Father is a magnificent book. Not only does Schneiderman provide an honest and loving tribute to his father, he also provides insight into Jewish death rituals, and he provides an unflinching look at what it means to be human.


Schneiderman, Simon., “Preoccupied with My Father.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,