I have not found a post so effortless to write in a long time, this is the first review I have written in a long time that just flowed immediately after reading. What a marvellous start to 2015!
I’m not one for pictures. Picture books, that is. Trying to read comics is like trying to get me to pay attention when there are hundreds of pretty lights around, I find it impossible to concentrate. Generally, I shun comics and graphic novels in favour of solitary beautiful words.
Earlier in the year my lovely friends from work bought me a copy of Maus. It was sitting on my shelf, quite forlornly, until the 1st of January. When I decided (whimsically) that it would be my first new book on 2015 (I’d already read The Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, but re-reads don’t count).
From around 9pm through to just past midnight all I could do was read.
“By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival – and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.” GoodReads.
The portrayal of the Jewish people as Mice was inspired. The Nazi regime referred to the Jews as a race of vermin, rats, so this was an interesting play on that classification/dehumanisation. Portraying race as animals was an impactful way of demonstrating which humans were persecuted and which were not. (The English are fish, which I thought was hilarious, but you only see them oh so briefly at the end.)
I find it difficult to write reviews on subjects as weighty as the holocaust and anti-Semitism. My experience of reading Maus has left me more enlightened, more critical of my own privilege, but I don’t feel educated enough to comment on the subject. I’ve read books around the German people coming to terms with the actions of the Nazi’s, especially younger generations who are dealing with guilt about the past – but I haven’t been through anything remotely like this.
Perhaps this is how Spiegelman felt as he wrote about what his father went through. Vladek was both infuriating and superhuman. He survived, which came with a guilt of its own, and was still carrying around the side effects of the trauma – as anyone understandably would. But, these traits – such as hoarding food – infuriated a child who had never felt real hunger.
Spiegelman doesn’t shield the reader from his characters, from his family, this isn’t fiction. Vladek is imperfect, so is Art, so is Mala, his mother’s suicide is vividly stamped across the pages. This is all wrapped in the trauma of the war and the elation of his and Anja’s safety. I knew they would survive the camps, but I didn’t know what would be lost along the way.
I feel guilty now, guilt for not being more grateful for what surrounds me. Guilt for being an anxious person – what really is there to be anxious about when you’ve not been dehumanised. I don’t need to think about skin colour, because I am not thought about in terms of anything but ‘the norm’. I don’t have to worry about religious persecution as where I am from my religion is relatively irrelevant (atheist, in case you are wondering). I am a white middle class woman, all that ‘holds me back’ for a lack of a better term, is my gender – and frankly I think I’m fighting patriarchal discourse with relatively little resistance, such are the free thinking individuals I am surrounded by. I am fortunate in so many ways.
Maus has taught me as much about myself as it has about Nazi-occupied Poland, what greater gift can a book give you than that.
Do you read many Graphic Novels? Have you read Maus?