Thursday, October 9, 2014

To die, it's easy. But you have to struggle for life!

It seems that graphic novels are a thing now* and I like things and trends and whatnot and wanted to play. I'd only ever read one before, Fun Home, and thought it was time to give some more a try. I was limping** around The Strand and I found their graphic novel/comic book section and decided today is the day I try this graphic novel thing again. And thus I picked up Maus A Survivor's Tale and Kill Shakespeare.

I decided to start with Maus because I wanted to depress myself. Well, that's only one of the reasons. It's also one I've been meaning to read because I've heard nothing but great things about it. And it's closer in style to Fun Home which I enjoyed.

For those that don't know, (so like 4 of you? probably) Maus is about the Holocaust. Or I guess technically the first book, which is the one I read, is about the time leading up to the Holocaust.
Art Spiegelman tells his father's story of his time living in Poland leading up to being sent to a concentration camp. Jews are mice, nazis are cats, Polish non-Jews & non-Nazis are pigs and I think those are all the animals.

The idea of animals instead of people can make the story seem somewhat...happy? Not, not happy. It's still the Holocaust. Whimsical? For children? I mean, American Tale is about Jewish mice chased out of their home when their village is Russia is burned to the ground and the escape to the tenements of NYC. This is pretty much just that, right? No, but until just now I didn't think of the fact that there was another piece of media that used the mice as Jews thing.

I remember reading somewhere (and I really wish I could remember where) saying that a lot of Holocaust literature has some sort of frame story or element to add a layer between the reader and what happened (Death as narrator for The Book Thief for example).
The horror of the events are a lot to handle without some device that lets your guard down. If that was Spiegelman's intention it works well. The fact that the characters are mice in no way makes you care about them less. It also doesn't downplay the seriousness of the story or make things any less painful to read.

The story jumps back and forth between the present when Art is visiting his father and his step-mother (his mother committed suicide years earlier) to hear his father tell his story. His father never comes off as a saint. Or even a particularly present person to be around. Which if anything further humanizes his father, mouse or no mouse.

This was excellent. It was amazing and moving and terrifying and depressing and of course it made me cry. I wish I had picked up Maus II so I could pick it up immediately after. You should read it. Everyone should read it. If you don't think you like graphic novels, read it anyway.

Gif rating:

*OK, by "now" I mean I have recently heard non-graphic novel/comics people talking about them and starting to read them.
**I had, it turned out, sprained my ankle not long before getting to the bookstore because I was comparing how pale I am (very) against Tom (not pale at all) (this is not a surprise or anything. It's not like a new fact that he's much darker than me) and I messed up stepping off a curb because I am AMAZINGLY GRACEFUL. If you're wondering if it still hurts, yes, a little bit. So that's fun.

Title quote from page 122

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor's Tale I: My Father Bleeds History. Pantheon Books, 1980