Sunday, January 02, 2011

Book 1 – Maus: A Survivor's Tale

By Art Spiegelman

A Christmas gift from my brother in which Volume 1 and 11 came in a nice box set. It was a perfect gift as I hadn’t yet read the Pulitzer winning graphic novel and had been meaning to for some time, but was in no hurry. I guess like most people who have never experienced war or its ramifications, it seems like the past few decades there has been an over-saturation of media pertaining to WWII, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Maus seemed like one of many. I think there was an interview where even Spiegelman was wondering at some point while creating Maus, whether we needed another Holocaust survivor story. After reading Maus, the answer was a resounding yes. And yes for the obvious reasons, one being an important personal document about surviving the horror of war.

I only started reading Maus right away because its comic format was more appealing than having to read another vague Neil Gaiman short story (see Fragile Things). At first, I was dubious about using different animal species to represent the various races: mice for the Jews, cats for the Germans, pigs for the Polish, etc. I was thinking, wouldn’t using people’s faces be more realistic and impactful? But after a while, I got used to it and realized later that this device did work in a surreal (and yes, symbolic) way that got under your skin. And then the very human life story of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, was incredibly absorbing and moving.

One evening, after taking my parents out for New Year’s dinner at an upscale Chinese restaurant in Richmond, I had trouble sleeping, which always happens when I over-indulge on rich food the evening before. I didn’t want to wake Olman so I went to the living room to finish reading the last volume of Maus. It quickly dawned on me that reading Maus with a belly full of lobster in foie gras sauce felt like a weirdly uncomfortable contradiction. But as a consummate consumer, I had to finish it. Afterwards, my sleep was still fitful and images of Nazi felines and terrified mice haunted me for the rest of the night! I guess that served me right. Still, Spiegelman's expressive artwork lingers and his father's story is something that won't be easily forgotten.

1 comment:

Lantzvillager said...

They really are very powerful books whether looked at as comics or not. Obviously, they have taken the top spot in the graphic-memoir canon I think mainly by virtue of having been around the longest. Also, it's not cool to criticize Holocaust stories.

I know many people who are out there that have read these books but are completely unaware of some of the more recent and in many ways better graphic novels. That sometimes bugs me a little.