Jan 6, 2014

The Complete Maus, by Art Spiegelman

This is officially the first graphic novel I've read, and boy, did I pick a doozy. People have been telling me to read "Maus" for years, and I finally dove into it when I picked it for my bookstore's first book club meeting. About graphic novels in general: I was a bit skeptical because part of what I love about reading is you get to essentially create a movie in your head as you go. I imagine faces and settings as vivid as the real world and retain them throughout my reading of a novel. I was worried that a graphic novel wouldn't allow me to do so, and it would be distracting. Having now read one, I can say that far from being distracting, I actually had a hard time remembering to even look at the pictures at all! I read the captions and the dialogue, but would often forget about looking at the pictures as I went along. So while it didn't distract me in the way I thought it might, my guess is that I'm missing quite a bit because of my reading blinders.

As for the story, whew...I think the most interesting part about "Maus" is how unlikable Vladek is. He's a Holocaust survivor, an Auschwitz survivor, so your first instinct is to empathize with and pity him. But he's really a jerk, verbally abusive towards his wife and controlling of his son. The debate could go on forever, trying to figure out if he was that way all along or because of what he lived through. The story he tells, albeit nothing new to us in 2014, is heart-wrenching in its honesty. I had the bad luck of eating dinner when he speaks about how the showers and ovens worked and was nearly unable to finish chewing. The most astonishing parts were how cruel other prisoners and Jews could be to each other. The systematic dehumanization of the Jews allowed other humans to act out their basest instincts. We are all xenophobic animals deep down, and the Nazis not only permitted but encouraged people to tap into those dark spots in their souls. We all like to think the human race has evolved since then, but there's no real indication this is so. "Maus" is a fascinating read, though I'm not enamored of the format, and I believe more people should read it.

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