In between, of course, he had a life: four children, and two marriages — the second a lasting personal and professional partnership. There was a long stint in the country, a return to the still-uncharted TriBeCa, and many, many lifelong friendships. (While the chapter devoted to Sorel’s friends is doubtless a labor of love, I’m not sure how much interest it holds to readers outside of his own circle.) The book’s not just a who’s who of liberal luminaries, but of cartoon-world royalty as well. I can pay the author no greater compliment than to say that, through it all, he does not come off as an operator.
As should perhaps be obvious, the memoir is overtly political. Indeed, Sorel makes a point of giving a highly opinionated “exposé” of every administration in his lifetime. (A choice he later writes he’s “beginning to regret,” given the research involved.) But really, nothing provides so vivid a record of the events he lived through as the cartoons, caricatures and drawings that do, yes, profusely illustrate every chapter. He’s not proud of all of them (“awfully heavy-handed,” he writes of a 1970 cartoon of Richard Nixon that got him in hot water; “overworked,” he says of another), but together they concisely convey the passions and pieties of their moment.
Despite the deceptive neatness inherent in any retrospective glance backward, Sorel’s has not been an uncomplicated life. There are personal challenges, professional setbacks, regrets, controversy. There’s the loss of his beloved wife, Nancy. By his own account, this is a book about the failures of 13 administrations. And yet, the takeaway’s not a grim one.
In an introductory author’s note, Sorel states his aim: “to save a few of my drawings from the oblivion that awaits all protest art, and almost all magazine illustrations.” He does more than this. Warm, affectionate, often angry but never cruel, cynical but not without a certain faith in people, Sorel gives us a life — and a world — in pictures. It made me very happy.