Of Maus and Men
I’ve been promising this bad boy for awhile now, and then other, more pressing/interesting books crossed my path. But now I’m feeling anxious about having NOT said anything in regards to this book – or rather, books. The version I read collected Books I and II.
Maus, I figured, could wait…because it’s a freaking Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel that is on the course syllabus for every “Graphic Novel Literature” course in America (and probably the UK, or elsewhere).
I have a feeling there is very little I could say about this book that hasn’t already been better articulated somewhere else, so there is not much point in my trying.
But, here goes anyway:
COMPLAINTS – while few and far between, I did have some. I still can’t get on board with the biographical graphic novel material wherein children (yet again) complain about their parents. Maybe I would be more lenient if it weren’t so present in the bio-novels that I read. But, it was there. Again.
Granted, the author/illustrator Art Spiegelman did a great job of being as fair as possible with these interactions (and clearly let us see his flaws in dealing with his father), I found myself getting unbearably annoyed with Art Spiegelman’s Maus/Mouse character. Having read books, seen movies, listened to survivor’s speak – I mean, going through all of that shit would permanently alter how you function in the world.
I had respect and a lot of patience for Vladek. When I commented upon this to someone, they retorted -“well, come on, after years of that behavior, you would get annoyed.”
Of course. It makes sense. But in the span of a rather thick graphic novel, I was hard pressed to feel remorse that Art had to suffer with his father’s hard-earned eccentricities. I felt angry at Art Spiegelman. I wanted to pinch his little mouse ear and shout “be nice to your father, you dick!”
I’ve had issues with my father in my lifetime – we’ve come to physical blows. But – you know, we forgave each other. We see the value in maintaining a good family bond. Thusly – Art pissed me off.
PRAISES – of course – the art was cartoony (with the anthropomorphism), but only enough so that it could capture and hold the attention of young and old. And for an intense story about Concentration Camps and Nazis – I thought it made the themes and concepts and subject matter palatable for a wide audience.
An observation though – about the detailed and tiny, cramped spaces the author/artist made for himself. I’ve been mulling it over, and I’m sure it has much to do with the breadth and length of the story needing to capitalize on small space…but I’m also wondering, why? I can easily get lost in the world of Maus, but also feel stifled and claustrophobic. There is so much happening on one page – in one panel. It’s impressive and arresting, even in it’s rather detailed simplicity.
I honestly think is something young adults and teenagers could pick up as supplement to their WWII education. Though I think language would be an issue (though I don’t remember much), so it probably couldn’t be used as a course text. But the themes explored in the book aren’t much more intense than reading Anne Frank or Number the Stars or Night.
I think it actually accentuates these books, and gives a different take on the WWII we’ve seen and heard so much about. It offers a window into the life of a survivor of these atrocities, and how one has to psychologically cope with what has happened to them. Most of the standard elementary-high school fare focuses on the event itself. This book explores the beginning, middle and end of the life of someone who survived the Holocaust.
And it’s breath-taking. It’s painful. It’s emotionally raw…and yet, there are charming moments too. Particularly from Vladek, who brought so much of the heart and warmth to this bitter tale.
Well done, Mr. Spiegelman. But I still think you’re kind of a jerk. 🙂
Much Love, Mindy C