Friday, September 12, 2008

Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman

I'm not sure about recommending these books here because the recommendations on this site are usually pretty tame, but they were too amazing for me to not mention them. So when it comes to these books, reader beware! These books are appropriate for their subject matter--they are not gratuitous--but they are gritty.

The Holocaust is a difficult subject that has been taken on by countless authors, each author trying to add depth and breadth to a story that is already too big to be grasped. But no matter how big of a challenge the Holocaust presents, writers need to write about this--especially writers who have a direct connection to it.

In what is probably one of the earliest graphic novels, Maus and Maus II is the story of Art and his father Vladek and their struggles to understand the Holocaust. Vladek is a Holocaust survivor who always wants to tell his survival tale but can never quite bring himself to do it until his son starts asking him questions. Overwhelmed by Vladek's grief and idiosyncrasies--many of which grew out of the war--Art turns to the only medium he knows to express himself: comics.

As his sketches the pain and frustration that have been the driving force of both their lives, the Jews comes out as mice (maus is the German word for mouse) and the Nazis come out as cats. The simple cat and mouse metaphor provides the clarifying juxtaposition that Art needs to emotionally process and record his father's story.

The Pulitzer Prize winningMaus volumes are raw and real. Seeing the story documented through comics allows the reader to approach the Holocaust from another angle--making it both more immediate and more complex. Maus and Maus II are books that should not be missed by anyone searching to understand the Holocaust.

4 comments:

Th. said...

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Seconded. Excellent books.

William Morris said...

I also agree -- and don't be put off by the graphic novel format. I've never been a fan of comics as a way of telling a narrative. Never quite got it.

But Spiegelman really makes the form work. And his style is not the overwrought big style of superhero comics but the sparse style of black and white illustration.

Th. said...

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Superherodom has become such an isolated world with its own visual vocabulary that it's a terrible place to start reading comics.

Laura said...

I've never read any real comics before so these books were a surprise for me. I had never realized what comics could do . . .