19 July, 2013

Book Review: Maus

From Goodreads: The Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in “drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust” (The New York Times).
Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.

Thoughts: It was summer. I remember I was 10 or 11. "Last one to the schoolyard is a rotten egg." I was rollerskating with Howie and Steve...'til my skate came loose. "Ow! Hey! Wait up fellas!"
"Rotten Egg! ha ha!"
"W-wait up."
My father was in front fixing something...
"Artie! Come to hold this a minute while I saw. Why do you cry, Artie. Hold better on the wood."
"I fell and my friends skated away without me"
He stopped sawing. "Friends? Your friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, THEN you could see what it is, friends."

And that is the boot to the stomach Maus starts with. From this point, I knew that it would be a book that made you feel like you'd been hit again and again, and I was right.

For me, the brutality of Maus is it's raw honest look at the relationship between a father who has experienced true horrors and a man who is trying to understand and even forgive the effect that had on his childhood. Spiegelman exposed everything in this book about his relationship with his father. The graphic novel does not just recount Vladek's time during World War II, in recounts the interviews and events when Art was interviewinig Vladek about the book.

The power of Maus is not only in it's first hand account of surviving the Holocaust, but an account of how the families of survivors were affected. How the experiences of the Jews during that time coloured their whole life - where fear and distrust became the norm, safety was never guaranteed and try as you might to not let it, it did affect those around you. I became so frustrated with Art and the way he reacted to his father sometimes, but really in the end, the relationship was like so many father/ son or parent/ child relationships. Frustration with the parent over a seemingly inability to move out of (what the child perceives to be) dark ages and into the present. Frustration with the child who refuses to understand why things are important and why you simply cannot throw away anything you no longer want. It's a frustration I experience at times with my own aging parents.

And then there are the accounts of what happened during World War II. By maintaining his father's faulty English, Art portrayed the tone of Vladek so well. I could hear him speak, the accent, the matter-of-factness about his statements.

And we came here to the concentration camp Auschwitz. And we knew that from here we will not come out anymore...We knew the stories - that they will gas us and throw us in the ovens. This was 1944..we knew everything. And here we were.

When I read that I can hear the sadness, but also the acceptance of it. I imagine the fear they felt right at that moment, but in the recount, all I hear is sadness and acceptance. We were here, there was nothing we could do, we knew the outcome.

I've read a fair amount of Holocaust literature - both fiction and non fiction. It is a period of history that haunts and baffles me. This is one of the most powerful pieces I have read on it. The black and white drawings emphasis the darkness the stories, the links back to the present show the ongoing repercussions and the categorising of different races as different animals (Jews were mice, Germans cats, Polish pigs and American's dogs) served to show that humans view each other as different species, rather than as one. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in the Holocaust. 

I read this as part of my 13 in '13 challenge. I deliberately chose a graphic novel that had some real meat to it. I'm not a comic girl, I'm not interested in the Marvel type graphic novels. This, however, has shown me that there is some wonderful, high quality graphic books out there. I'll be keeping my out for more of this quality.

Challenges: 13 in '13