Art Spiegelman’s parents wanted him to be a dentist. I’m sure that would have provided him with a much more stable income but he wouldn’t have won a PArt Spiegelman’s parents wanted him to be a dentist. I’m sure that would have provided him with a much more stable income but he wouldn’t have won a Pulitzer Prize. Or created one of the most innovative and emotional pieces of literature I have read for a long time.
Maus was first published in the magazine Raw which he and his wife started in 1980. It tells the story of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, and his life as a Jew in Poland before and during the Second World War. The concept behind the novel appears simple: The Jews are mice, the Nazis are cats, the Poles are pigs, the Americans are dogs.
The idea of using animals as a way of dealing with important concepts has been done before but never in such a compelling and innovative way as this.
Spiegelman’s Jews are still very much human; he depicts them as being able to drive, sleep in bed and eat food that isn’t, well..cheese. I feel this is important because it doesn’t make the horrific events of the Holocaust ‘cute’. When I first read the synopsis I did have concerns. The animal concept is purely to establish not only who is who, but who people are in relation to others.
Art Spiegelman interviewed his father about his experiences in the Nazi death camps and Maus was the result of these conversations. This story is not just about what happened in Auschwitz but how these events caused a rift in history that effects everyone, and continues to effect people to this day.
What I found most refreshing is the way that Spiegelman does not sentimentalise his father’s story or gloss over the strained relationship he had with him. Art’s impatience with his father’s selfish ways help cover the underlying guilt that runs through the novel, guilt that he had an easier life than his father and that he does not need to fight to survive every day because of his identity. The exchanges between Art and his father are sometimes very difficult to read. Like when you over hear an argument on a bus and you don’t want to listen. As a reader it is often difficult to decide whose side you are on. When I read it, I felt more inclined to sympathise with Vladek, even though he is often angry and manipulative, as I had read what he had been through, which kind of gave an explanation as to why he was like he was (trying not to waste food and being tight with his money are two of the main causes of arguments that arise between him and Art).
Sometimes it appeared that Art was like a petulant child that seemed to take advantage of his father and only wanted to know his story so he could write it down for his novel. However, as much as it seems he wants to, Art never gives up on his father, because deep down he understands that he is a hero because he survived so much, before, during and after the war. I feel that this realistic approach makes the final pages of the book so poignant.
What struck me most about this novel was the sheer amount of raw emotion portrayed in the panels. On a purely aesthetic level, the pictures are stunning. Drawn in entirely black and white, they contain so much detail that it took me atleast a minute a page to just look at the pictures. I don’t understand how other people have said that this is a ‘quick- read’. When we first meet Vladek there is a drawing of him on the exercise bike and a small portion of his arm is visible, here you can see the last five numbers of his tattoo that he was given in Auschwitz. It isn’t blatant and in your face, but it’s there and accompanied with the speech bubble “It would take many books, my life, and no one wants to hear such stories” ensures that it stays with you until the end. The last pages of the collected books are so harrowing. Real life pictures are intertwined with the drawings that remind the reader that this is a true story. These things, these events... they actually happened.
I feel that anyone who is interested in history or the way people deal with tragedy should read this novel. It is not just a story about the Holocaust. I feel that in Maus, Spiegelman discovered that even though his quest to portray something as harrowing as the Holocaust in literature was futile, he managed to signify how important it was the people still need to try to understand to unimaginable....more
(Deciding to re-read this book was inspired by the wonderful ladies at Gathering Books and their fantastic bimonthly meme‘Everything Dahl and Magical’(Deciding to re-read this book was inspired by the wonderful ladies at Gathering Books and their fantastic bimonthly meme‘Everything Dahl and Magical’. Which I absolutely adore. )
“When writing about oneself, one must strive to be truthful. Truth is more important than modesty. I must tell you, therefore, that it was I and I alone who had the idea for the great and daring Mouse Plot. We all have our moments of brilliance and glory, and this was mine.”
I first read this glorious memoir aged twelve when I had to do a project in history on a historical person of my choice. I went to Staples, giddy as a kipper, and bought about five piles of coloured sugar paper and two packets of gel pens (the smelly glitter ones, of course) and set about completing possibly my favourite piece of homework. I was minding my own business in the classroom, armed with a Pritt Stick and a copy of every one of his book, when this absolute… so and so… in my class said ‘Roald Dahl? Historical? I don’t think so. You should have chosen a monarch or something. You’re going to get a rubbish mark.” Because I was a shy and retiring wallflower back then, I muttered something under my breath and glared at her from underneath my unfortunate fringe. BUT, if she had said that to me today I would have found a desk, stood on it and, with my chest puffed out, I would have declared: “Roald Dahl is a historical figure because if Roald Dahl hadn’t written his books then British children’s fiction… nay, British fiction would have been far too bleak to tolerate. He captured the imagination of so many children and wrote timeless stories that encouraged, and continue to encourage, children who would never normally pick up a book to do just that. And if making generation after generation fall in love with his writing doesn’t qualify him as a historical person then I don’t know what does.” But… like I said. Mumble. Glare. Unfortunate fringe. Anyway, I got my project back (and I still have it!) and my wonderful history teacher wrote: “Fantastic and original work here. You really did justice to a wonderful figure in British culture. 10 credits” 10 credits? Fantastic and original. YEAH. Anyway... back to the book. I loved how Dahl only briefly mentions the stories that he is known for once. It is only right near the end where he is describing how Cadbury’s World (Which is just like Charlie's Chocolate Factory by the way!) used to send the boys of his boarding school sample chocolate to taste and how this lead to him writing Charlie and his adventures. So whenever it was mentioned that his grandfather was nearly seven foot tall or how the young boy used to wonder how gobstoppers worked, you can’t help but feel that Dahl is giving you a knowing wink or whispering a secret that only the two of you are privy to. Witnessing these glimmers of inspiration that lead him to write his beloved stories, all those years later, was definitely my favourite thing about this book. Mrs Pratchett with her blouse covered in “toast-crumbs and tea stains and splotches of dried egg-yolk” and hands that “looked as though they have been putting lumps of coal on the fire all day long.” Remind you of any one?
Or the Matron, that “large fair-haired woman with a bosom” who “ruled with a rod of steel.”
And Dahl’s Bestemama with her perpetual chair rocking or Bestepapa, who sits “saying very little and totally overwhelmed.”
Paired with photographs, hand-written letters home and, of course, Quentin Blake’s glorious illustrations (My favourite one being the bug-eyed, twitching Captain Hardcastle), Boy is still one of my all-time favourites.
I could quite happily fill this review with quotes.... but I'll just leave you with this one...
“Anaesthetics and pain-killing injections were not much used in those days. Dentists, in particular, never bothered with them. But I doubt very much if you would be entirely happy today if a doctor threw a towel in your face and jumped on you with a knife.”
You can find this review and lots of other exciting things on my blog here....more
I have a love/hate relationship with autobiographies of comedians that I like.
I loved Mr Norton's, I wasn't so fussed about Mr Brand's, I hated Ms BraI have a love/hate relationship with autobiographies of comedians that I like.
I loved Mr Norton's, I wasn't so fussed about Mr Brand's, I hated Ms Brand's and I find myself looking suspiciously at the adverts of Mr McIntyre's book that Goodreads keeps tempting me with.
But still I always pick them up and think "YAY I love this guy/gal, it's going to be sooooo interesting and hilarious to find out more about them". And it is... in a way. I do find it interesting how they got to where they are but I want to know what they're like now. Maybe I'm just nosey. However this autobiography stops at 2000 which is pre-Gavin and Stacey and pre-Every-quiz-show-on-British-television and... well.... eh.
So I'm putting this book on hold.
If I pick up this book again (and I hope I do because his childhood and experiences in drama school are fascinating. I especially loved his story about how Ms Zeta Jones watched him in a production of Star Wars) I will definitely be listening to the audiobook because I imagine his delivery would have me in stitches.
I won't lie to you... the main reason why I'm giving up on this is because when I flicked through to look at the pictures of him (A particularly hilarious one of him channelling his inner Rambo, by the way!) I discovered that there was not a chapter called "The Truth: What Really Happened On That Fishing Trip with Bryn and Jason".
*Sigh* One day we'll know what gravity-defying shenanigans they got up to on that fateful weekend... ...more