Posts Tagged ‘art spiegelman’

Maus II:  A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began is the second part in a comic book memoir by Art Spiegelman that details his father Vladek’s Holocaust survival story.  Maus II picks up right where Maus I:  A Survivor’s Tale:  My Father Bleeds History leaves off, with Vladek and Art’s mother, Anja, being taken to Auschwitz after their attempts to flee Poland in 1944 backfire.

This book goes a little farther in showing how the Holocaust continues to affect Vladek decades later.  His second wife, Mala, has left him, and he begs Art and his wife to spend the summer with him in his cottage in the Catskills.  The two just want to make sure Vladek is okay on his own, but Vladek’s frailties and hoarding are on full display; when a dish breaks, he says he will glue it back together, and he even tries to return half-eaten groceries to the store so they will not go to waste.

Vladek’s hoarding and refusal to spend money anger Art, who still struggles with his parents’ Holocaust experiences and his mother’s suicide.  He even feels some sibling rivalry with Richieu, the brother he never knew except in faded photographs.  After Vladek’s death, Art has trouble writing about his father’s Auschwitz experiences and dealing with the success of Maus I.  He sees a psychiatrist, a Czech Jew who survived two camps and helps Art overcome his writing block.

Much of Maus II is about how Vladek survived Auschwitz.  The creativity he exhibited in finding work and trading for food while he and Anja were in the ghetto and later in hiding also helped him stay alive in the concentration camp.  Vladek’s story is both heart-breaking and downright amazing, and the fact that he was able to communicate with his wife in the camp and even help keep her alive shows the depth of their love and makes it easy to see why he fell apart after her suicide.  The evacuation of Auschwitz, the death march to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp, the overcrowded cattle cars to Dachau, and the spread of typhus are described in few but powerful words.

Just like Maus I, the illustrations in Maus II are horrifying and necessary.  They tell a story of their own, rich with symbolism given that the characters are once again drawn as animals.  The Jews are depicted as mice, the Nazis and other Germans as cats, the Poles as pigs, and a lone Frenchman as a frog.  Once again, I was so involved in the story that I forgot after awhile that the illustrations were of animals even while I appreciated the symbolism.

Honestly, I didn’t expect Maus to affect me as much as it did.  I didn’t think a comic book tale with illustrations of animals could be so powerful, but I’m glad I was wrong.  These books brought me to tears, and some scenes hit me hard like a kick to the stomach.  I am always amazed at how people are able to survive the harshest and worst of circumstances, and Maus is one of the most gripping survivor stories I’ve ever read.  Spiegelman does an excellent job immortalizing his parents and showing the burdens that the survivors carried throughout their lives, even passing them on to their children.  It’s hard to put into words just how these books affected me, so I urge you to read them.  I hope you find, like I have, that they provide much food for thought and will sear their haunting images into your mind for a long time.

Disclosure: I borrowed Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Read Full Post »

Ever since hosting the World War II reading challenge at War Through the Generations in 2009, I’ve been wanting to read Art Spiegelman’s graphic non-fiction tales of his parents’ Holocaust experiences.  I can’t believe it took me so long to pick them up, but this is another case of better late than never.

In Maus I:  A Survivor’s Tale:  My Father Bleeds History, Spiegelman, a comic book artist/writer, wants to tell his father’s survival story.  He doesn’t have the best relationship with his father, Vladek, but he begins making frequent visits to listen as his father recounts his time in Poland just before and during World War II.

Vladek tells his son how he met his wife, Anja, who committed suicide in 1968 when Art was 20 but whose mental anguish was apparent before the Holocaust.  Anja’s parents were wealthy, and the pair lived comfortably while Vladek worked hard running a textile factory.  They had a son, Richieu, who sadly did not survive the war.

Maus I follows Vladek’s story as conditions for the Jews degrade in Poland and elsewhere in Europe as war is waged.  Vladek talks about how he and Anja survived living in a ghetto, how creative and daring he was in finding work and trading items for food, and how they managed to live for some time in hiding.  An ominous cloud hung above the story as I read, and I always had this feeling that something would go wrong, someone would betray them, and eventually their luck would run out.  Alas, that feeling proved correct, as this first installment in Vladek’s story ends with his and Anja’s arrival at Auschwitz.

Vladek’s story, even before he sets foot in Auschwitz, is painful, but as the story is told in his words, there is also hope, for readers know that he survived.  Still, the effects of living close to starvation in the ghetto and the concentration camp took its toll.  From Vladek’s interactions with his son and his second wife, Mala, readers see how he carries the Holocaust with him every day as he hoards things, refuses to spend money when he could reuse something or fix something himself, and constantly worries that Mala is trying to steal all the money that he has saved over the years.

Art’s struggles as the child of Holocaust survivors are apparent, as is his grief over his mother’s suicide.  He channels all of these hurts into his work, and even as he constantly expresses his annoyance with his father, his fascination with his father’s Holocaust story and his respect for all that his parents endured shines through.

In Maus, Spiegelman uses animals to portray his family and the other people who play a role in the story.  The symbolism of the Jews as mice, the Nazis and other Germans as cats, and the Poles as pigs seems obvious.  However, I honestly didn’t pay much attention to the use of animals in the illustrations, and even though I paid close attention to the drawings as I read, I was so wrapped up in the the story that I didn’t take much notice of the animal symbolism after awhile.  The story would have affected me just as strongly had the illustrations featured humans, and I didn’t find it difficult to remember that despite the animal imagery, the book is non-fiction.

Maus I is a quick read at about 160 pages, but that doesn’t mean readers should speed through it.  The use of graphic non-fiction is an interesting way to depict one family’s Holocaust story, and it is just as gripping and heart-breaking as it would have been in straight prose.  Spiegelman does a wonderful job making it feel as though the reader is sitting across from his father and listening intently as he recounts his tale of survival, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout.  I felt extremely sad and weighed down when I finished this book, but I immediately started the next book because I just had to find out what happened to Vladek and Anja in Auschwitz.  This is one of those books whose images will haunt me for some time, but I highly recommend it for readers interested in the Holocaust who want something more than the typical memoir.

(My thoughts on Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began will post tomorrow.)

Disclosure: I borrowed Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Read Full Post »