I’ve been meaning to read this graphic novel as I’ve heard many great things about it so when our book-club announced it for this month’s read, I was pretty excited. This book afterall, was a graphic novel and it pertained to WWII, so what could go wrong?
This graphic novel is presented in black-n-white and written by the son of a Jewish Holocaust survivor. The son, an illustrator, visits his father and inquiries about his life in Poland around the time of WWII. His father’s memory is quite good as he recalls this tragic event in history.
I was amazed at how well Vladek recalls the names of places and individuals as he reaches back in time to relive his life. As the story unfolds, his journey was quite extensive. I have a hard-enough time remembering what I did yesterday and Vladek memories include quite a bit of detail.
This novel provides more than just his father’s flashbacks during this father and son interview, we learn about other individuals who play a role in their lives. We learn about other relationships, past and current, including the relationship between the father and his son. I thought the some of these relationships were quite interesting and I was amazed at the connections that Vladek had.
I do feel that there were times that the language in the book felt stiff and off for me. I think it was how the book was translated that threw it off for me. As I read, during Vladek days of trying to survive, I went through many emotions. A good read will provoke that in a reader.
I appreciate Vladek for sharing his story and for his service. I also appreciate that Art wrote this graphic novel about his father. It’s a momentous piece of history told from one who survived.
1. Call of Crows trilogy by Shelly Laurenston (The Undoing, The Undoing, The Unleashing) - paranormal that takes on modern women's rage and Norse mythology. It's messy and fun and cathartic.
2. The Donovan Legacy by Nora Roberts (Charmed, Enchanted, Captivated, Entranced) - there is paranormal romance and then there is ParaNora romances. I think this is where Roberts first started in the paranormal genre.
3. Saga series by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples - the only sci-fi story I can stick with.
4. The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman - the story of the Holocaust as told by mice.
5. The Complete Persepolis - the coming of age of an Iranian girl as the US backed government fell and the Islamists took power. A story of an immigrant, even when she went back to living in Iran.
6. The March trilogy by Rep. John Lewis, Nate Powell, and John Robert Lewis - not just the story of the march on Washington, Lewis tells of the early days of the civil rights movement interspersed with the first inauguration of President Obama.
Non-Fiction - Corporations Are People and Sometimes People Are Corrupt
7. Bad Blood: Secret and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-Up by John Carreyrou - a train-wreck that you can't keep your eyes off.
8. Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story by Kurt Eichenwald - the story of the rise and fall of Enron, written as a suspense novel.
Non-Fiction - US Politics
9. All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward - the Watergate scandal. Back when US politicians put country before party...a simpler time.
10. Truth and Consequences: Special Comments on the Bush Administration's War on American Values by Keith Olbermann - the written version of the comments Olbermann made on his MSNBC show with a bit more context and fleshed out.
Non-Fiction - History
11. To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild - I think this is the definitive history of the Great War, ensuring even coverage of both the Axis and Allies side of the story and placing the war among the other events happening in the respective countries (such as the women's suffrage movement).
12. Polio: An American Story by David Oshinsky - how science and vaccines conquered a disease that affected everyone - including a US president. Timely given the shit going on now.
13. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Their Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler - just timely given the shit going on now.
14. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates - I think this would make a great companion to the memoir by James Yates which was on my original list.
15. AIDS in America by Susan Hunter - although in my lifetime AIDS went from a straight death sentence to a chronic if manageable disease, the rise of new cases in America and the policies of certain politicians (looking at you Pence!) means this is still a public health issue and needs to be addressed. A little dated as the book was published 2006, but addresses a lot of the root causes that continue today.
16. Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy - a bonus pick because I couldn't leave it off a second time.
I could add a whole bunch more, but some of the titles have already been picked by other BL-ers (well done everyone! we have wonderful taste in books, lol).
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.
Inspired by the Holocaust experience of his own parents, cartoonist Art Spiegelman writes and illustrates this Pulitzer Prize wining story of a grown son, also a cartoonist (yes, this one is in the meta / semi-autobio style) who sits down with his father, Vladek Spiegelman, to record Vladek's story with the intent to publish it. Perhaps to soften some of the more violent aspects of Vladek's story, the tale is told anthropomorphically-- Nazi soldiers are portrayed as big, burly cats, Jewish prisoners are mice, and one African-American man is illustrated as a black dog.
Vladek starts with the story of meeting his wife, Anja, and their years together as newlyweds prior to the war. In 1938, Anja develops post-partum depression and is taken to a sanitarium in Czechoslovakia where she experiences, for the first time, full-force anti-Semitism. From there, the war story of Anja and Vladek only gets more painful. Even Anja's millionaire parents couldn't buy her safety. Once captured, Vladek explains that he was able to get some leniency with the Germans because even though his family was Polish, he could speak and write in German, so the Nazis found him useful.
This special anniversary edition features the entire story, Vols 1 & 2, together in one book. As I mentioned before, the story does dip in and out of meta style storytelling. Towards the middle of the book, there is a kind of mini-comic insert where author Art Spiegelman tells the real life tragic story of his own mother's suicide. This book as a whole is not for the faint of heart. There are illustrations of mice with nooses around their necks, descriptions of children being picked up by their legs and swung into brick walls to stop them from crying / screaming (the noise giving away the location of those in hiding). Near the end of Vol. 2 there is also pretty detailed description of the interiors of the gas chambers. This edition also features one color map (the rest of the book is done in black and white) that shows the full layout of the Auschwitz camp.
Blended with the Holocaust theme, Spiegelman also brings in a modern day father-son relationship story of a grown man honestly trying to make the effort to finally, hopefully, understand the father who has always slightly confounded him. There are some tense life truths brought to the table during these scenes but it provided a relatable, poignant layer to the whole experience that I came to really appreciate.
If you're now reading this thinking, "Man, there is no way I could get through anything that dark," Spiegelman might have had such readers in mind because he does offer moments of levity as well. There's the somewhat scary but also creepy-humorous story of Lucia, the woman who went Stage 5 Clinger on Vladek when he became interested in someone else.
Old man Vladek is also dad-funny during his conversations with his son, saying things like "famous like that one guy".... I don't know though, there were a few moments there where old Vladek was coming off as pretty strongly racist himself... so it left me with mixed feelings about him.
I'm glad I finally took the opportunity to experience this epic graphic novel I've heard so much about over the years. The story is a tough one to take, but important to hear. Truthfully though, I'm not sure it's one I see myself revisiting, at least not any time soon.