Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Books 99-100: Maus, A Survivor's Tale (Vols. I & II)

NUMBER: 99 and 100
TITLE: Maus, A Survivor's Tale, Vol. I: My Father Bleeds History and Maus, A Survivor's Tale, Vol. II: And Here My Troubles Began
AUTHOR: Art Spiegelman
STARTED: December 19, 2006
FINISHED: December 20, 2006
PAGES: 159 and 144 (Total; 303)
GENRE: Graphic Novels

FIRST SENTENCE: [From Vol. 1] It was summer, I remember.
[From Vol. 2] Summer vacation.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com - Vol. 1] It is the story of Vladek Speigelman, 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. 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.

[From barnesandnoble.com - Vol. 1] Maus was the first half of the tale of survival of the author's parents, charting their desperate progress from prewar Poland Auschwitz. Here is the continuation, in which the father survives the camp and is at last reunited with his wife.

REASON FOR READING: These have been on my TBR list for quite some time.

THOUGHTS: This was the perfect set of books to read after finishing Night. I connected with the author and his personal struggle. Here he was, using the book has a meta-fictional and meta-autobiographical tool to help him understand his father. Throughout the book, Spiegelman himself surfaces through the text as something more than a character or storyteller. In fact, Spiegelmen breaks the story more than once to talk about writing the story, of finding the story, and coming to understand what he is doing. He becomes the reader and, in that way, the real reader connects with the heart of the story.

Another aspect of the book that worked well was the use of the animals as the characters. It makes the story a microcosm of itself. We can read about the Holocaust all we want, but we never can truly understand what happened unless we lived through it, and most of us have not. In using the animals, Spiegelman is taking the abstract to humanize the abstract. We can understand cats killings mice (the Germans killing the Jews in Maus), it's natural, we've grown accustomed to that idea and image. Seeing that in drawn form, and then connecting it to the Holocaust is jarring because humans killing humans on the scale of genocide is a concept we can never truly comprehend. Spiegelman tries to make us understand, mainly because he himself is trying to understand. He wants to get his father and his worrisome, perfectionist ways. The art and illusion seem a roundabout way of making the story tangible, but it works - particularly when the very human picture of Spiegelman's father in his prison garb makes an appearance at the end of volume II. It's as if Spiegelman is saying, "This is the story of my father as a young man, and here he is."

Spiegelman is kind to no one in this book. He does not sugarcoat his "characters," nor does he try to completely rationalize their actions. He makes his father seem like a possessed man who is living only in the past. Vladek, the father, is shown in modern day doing things he did in the camps to survive. Spiegelman himself comes off as detached and selfish. He doesn't get his father, and though he tries in the book, it comes across as an obligation. He let's everyone be. It's all out there, bare, for the reader to dissect themselves.

Maus works because it's not trying to be something, it just is. The reader can clearly see the author struggle with the book, his father and their relationship, and the Holocaust. Those are all things that the reader can identify with too. The book is a struggle, reading it is a mental struggle, and Spiegelman, by placing himself at the forefront of that struggle, ensures that Maus tells a dramatic and important story of history and the struggle to come to grips with that history.

MISCELLANEOUS: This takes courage.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to the library
RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

1 comment:

piksea said...

These books were wonderful. I think the format made it easier to wrap your mind around the horrors. Spiegelman didn't shy away. He made his point, let you know what happened, how it happened from a first person perspective, in his father's own words. He also gave a picture of the effects on the survivors. I think this was a work of genius, an everyman's way of knowing what this was all about in a time when, incredibly enough, there are people trying to deny the holocaust.