Longfellow's Reviews > Maus: A Survivor's Tale : My Father Bleeds History

Maus by Art Spiegelman
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Feb 01, 2012

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Read from January 01 to 31, 2012

Warning: What follows is a response rather than a review.

As I read Maus I, A Survivors Tale: My Father Bleeds History, I found myself thinking, This is the same Holocaust story I’ve heard many times before. And as I consider the familiar Holocaust story, I’m reminded of a quote from The Sun Also Rises (which has stuck with me only because it serves as the epigraph in Bright Lights, Big City):
“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve quoted this, but it’s a lot. It’s a true statement about so many situations in which we find ourselves in our lives.

How did I/we [fill in the blank]? Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.
How did the Nazis perform genocide? Two ways . . .
How did the Jews (and the rest of the world) allow it to happen? Two ways . . .

The story in brief: first the Jews are forced to identify themselves as Jews. They get official papers, have to wear a visible sign, and are restricted in where they may go and when and with whom they can do business; they have their homes and businesses taken away from them and begin to go into hiding; they are moved to central locations, continue to search for places to hide and for people courageous enough to hide them; they are moved again to other centralized locations, made slaves, and are murdered ruthlessly and efficiently . . .

Why keep telling this story? The standard answer: So it won’t happen again. This answer’s appropriateness does not reduce the risk of its becoming clichéd, however.

As with any message we hear many times, it becomes easy to hear without thinking about the reality from which it emerges. At this moment (probably because I’m reading The Irresistible Revolution) I’m thinking “so it won’t happen again” lets us off the hook too easily. Yes, nothing compares to the horrors of the Holocaust. But injustice is all around us. We are called to courage and to action in the littlest of things. This is how IT won’t happen again, and this also helps us confess that, as Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I could make a list of injustices, but it would only be my conscience speaking, spouting off the media I’ve heard and absorbed. Each one of us will do better to listen closely to our own conscience, to pay attention to what is going on in our local communities: what do we see? What do we believe? What can we do? What will we do?

Despite the fact that this Holocaust story is familiar in its generalities and the specifics of its systematic atrocities, each individual story is unique; Maus is the Holocaust story told through specific eyes and a specific experience and as such is valuable and interesting just as all of our individual stories are valuable and interesting.

Spiegelman has done a great job capturing the character of the father (a Holocaust survivor) in Maus by using both graphic images and text. Perhaps I’ll have more to say about these things after reading Maus II.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Hey Brian,
Let me just say, again, how much i love to read your reviews! You inspire me to read. I see you're now reading Maus...I look forward to the review. I've been meaning to read this for awhile. Maybe when I'm back in the states I'll pick up a copy. Hope you're well and still running strong. Peace to you brother.
sylvia


Longfellow Sylvia wrote: "Hey Brian,
Let me just say, again, how much i love to read your reviews! You inspire me to read. I see you're now reading Maus...I look forward to the review. I've been meaning to read this for ..."


thanks, sister! i was starting to lose my motivation for review writing a couple months ago, and then i found out Eddie reads them. this information encouraged me to keep trying to be thoughtful about things, and now i have double the motivation! so nice to know my audience of two is two of the best people i know in the world :) hope all is well with you and yours. peace!


Longfellow Longfellow wrote: "Sylvia wrote: "Hey Brian,
Let me just say, again, how much i love to read your reviews! You inspire me to read. I see you're now reading Maus...I look forward to the review. I've been meaning to..."


p.s. i'm reading this (and Maus II after) with my girlfriend (since July) to pass some news on to ya


message 4: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Yes, congratulations! I happened upon some awesome fb pic where you look very happy next to the lucky and beautiful young woman. :) So grateful to share life with someone who shares some of the same loves! What a gift. Happy for you. And yes, keep those reviews coming!


message 5: by Helen (new)

Helen You actually have an audience of three (at least). I also love your reviews and am thinking I need to start using the "like" button!


Longfellow Thanks, Helen!


Audra Spiven Well, there's quite a fan club here, but I just wanted to pop over and let you know that I finally stopped slacking and finished this book, and you can compare our reviews if you are so inclined. Your review is better than mine in many ways; more insightful, for one thing, which is the most obvious difference. And you draw more real-life connections than I did, which I also admire. I focused more on the book itself and my own personal history with it, having read it three times.

I look forward to reading Maus II with you, hopefully a bit quicker than we (okay, I) managed this one. :)

PS - I read all of your reviews too, just in case that wasn't clear before now!


message 8: by Helen (new)

Helen I finally read Maus, and am going to follow Brian's lead and share some reactions rather than posting a review of my own. Or maybe I will later…I dunno.

I liked most that Spiegelman revealed a side of the Holocaust that I was never taught in school. That is of Germans who didn't like what was happening in their country and took incredible risks on behalf of Jews. Can you imagine being in that position? Especially Mrs. Motonowa who panicked and threw Vladek and Anja out rather than get caught hiding Jews. What would her autobiography look like?

I feel I might be tarred and feathered when I admit I don’t care for Spiegelman’s use of mice in his illustrations. Even though I could tell who was speaking, I couldn’t tell anyone apart based on the illustrations alone. But maybe it worked; Jews stripped of their identity, millionaires or not, all go to the oven together. Same for German soldiers. There were undoubtedly many soldiers forced to do unspeakable things as a unit they never imagined possible individually.


Longfellow Helen wrote: "I finally read Maus, and am going to follow Brian's lead and share some reactions rather than posting a review of my own. Or maybe I will later…I dunno.

I liked most that Spiegelman revealed a s..."


Nice point about the German's who resisted by helping Jews find hiding places as well as the point about the "unit" vs. the "individual."

In my Comp. II class, we just finished reading about several experiments in psychology that investigate "obedience to authority." Stanley Milgram drew connections from his experiment to the Holocaust, in which he presents the concept of "the fragmentation of the total human act." Some people, like Eichmann, are signing papers which authorize the extermination of people, and way on down the line are common soldiers pulling the switches to the gas ovens, thus merely "following orders." Thus, along the way, the burden of responsibility evaporates, allowing everyone to claim innocence in one way or another.

Similarly, out of fear or for the ease of conforming to the group, the whole nation became caught up in the atrocities. Each year after this Comp. II unit, I'm left wondering what kind of response I would have in a similar situation. Would I have the strength to stand alone in obedience to my conscience?


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