Sunday, November 30, 2008

Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began

I read Maus about a month ago - it ends rather abruptly, just as Vladek is taken prisoner and sent to Auschwitz. I had to read the second one. The artist and author, Art Spiegelman, has brilliantly composed the books, drawing the Jews as mice, the Germans as cats, Americans as dogs and so on. As in the first book, Art has many painful conversations with his father to learn about his experiences during the war, not just because of the content, but compounded by their rocky relationship.

Vladek's experiences are, as you might imagine, horrible. Spiegelman adds to the documentation of Holocaust survivors with his father's story, and in the end, makes the story even more real by including a copy of an actual photo of his father. I must have stared at that page for ten minutes - it was so startling to see that photo suddenly in the midst of all those drawings. And the photo is so strange - he said he found a shop that had new, clean uniform from the camps, so he had a picture of himself taken in the uniform for his wife. He smiles, looking handsome, healthy, and so ironic. Another bit that really moved me was a conversation with his therapist that Spiegelman recounts - despite his success, Spiegelman feels guilty and small (he literally draws himself as a child). He says, "No matter what I accomplish, it doesn't seem like much compaired to surviving Auschwitz." His therapist asks him if he admires his father for surviving - of course he does. Then he says, "Then you think it's admirable to survive. Does that mean it's NOT admirable to NOT survive?... But it wasn't the BEST people who survived, nor did the best ones die. It was RANDOM!" They get down to the purposefulness/uselessness of telling any story. After all, it's fairly common to hear phrases like Never Forget regarding events like the Holocaust - a mantra, as if remembering will help us avoid repeating. And yet, horrible events occur every day. More unspeakable atrocities are occurring right now. Spiegelman quotes Samuel Beckett, "Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness." He and his therapist sit in silence for a moment. "On the other hand, he SAID it," he says. Spiegelman's voice is a powerful tool, he shows us his concerns, and proceeds with the story.


Sonya said...

The books sound really powerful. I really enjoyed this post--I'm glad I looked at your blog today : ).

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving and that Chicago isn't tooooo cold.

Anonymous said...

Can you help me with some question about the book MAUS,I have to do some for language arts and i don't know the answers Can you please help me with it?