Posts in category 'books'

  • Review: The Complete Maus

    Review of The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman (9780679406419)★★★★★

    The Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in “drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust” (The New York Times).

    Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.

    So, as I mentioned in my entry on the graphic novel Watchmen, I chose Maus (and Maus 2) as the next step in my foray into the graphic novel medium. Maus is, first and foremost, the tale of a holocaust survivor. Written by Art Spiegelman, the core narrative surrounds his father, Vladek, and his life in Poland before, during, and shortly after the holocaust. In an unusual twist, the story is told from a sort of metabiographical perspective, in that the reader is presented with a depiction, not only of Vladek’s tale, but also of the author’s experiences as he goes through the process of interviewing his father and writing the book. The result is that we not only learn of Vladek’s experiences surviving the unthinkable, but also the effect these events have on his present day life and the individuals connected to him.

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  • Literary Exploration

    In order to reward me for a job well done surviving yet another year on this remarkable little spheroid we call Earth, my lovely wife Lenore came up with the terrific idea of fulfilling a little whim I’ve had recently, that being to go on a minor exploration of the graphic novel medium.

    Like many before me, I had always assumed that graphic novels were, in the end, nothing more than extended comic books, replete with your standard super heros and caped crusaders. And while they were certainly entertaining, I would’ve hardly described them as potential sources of real intellectual stimulation. That is, until, I saw the movie adaptation of V_for_Vendetta. “V” demonstrated to me, in dramatic fashion, that graphic novels may also explore complex issues, with interesting, multi-faceted characters. Since then, I’ve been rather curious about the medium and the potential that it holds. Thus, I thought the most natural thing would be to pick up the original “V” and Sin_City graphic novels, so I could enjoy them in their original forms. Unfortunately, a trip to the local book store demonstrated that, following the release of their associated movies, these works have become rather difficult to find. But, not wanting to leave the book store without something, I decided to pick up another work by Alan Moore which I’d heard about: Watchmen.

    Now, I should start off by saying I haven’t yet reached the end of this frankly remarkable work. However, to say I’ve been impressed would be an understatement. The only graphic novel to make it on the “Time” list of 100 all-time best novels, “Watchmen” is considered one of the first attempts at a graphic novel as a form of literature. Ironically, “Watchmen” is best described as a superhero story. However, the heros of this story are, with few exceptions, nothing more than regular men and women, with remarkably complex psyches, who’s motivations for donning their costumes and fighting crime are varied and complex. Plotwise, the reader is presented with an intriguingly complex murder mystery, who’s victims are the aforementioned superheros, now retired, forced out of business by a law enacted to quell riots following a police strike protesting the actions of these perceived vigilantes.

    If a compelling plot and deep, varied characters aren’t enough, the use of art and dialog in “Watchmen” is wonderful. While not particularly cutting edge, it’s the use of the visuals as a storytelling device that is truly impressive, making it vital for the reader to fully study the panels in order to take in all the details.

    So, as I near the end of “Watchmen”, I’ve been trying to decide what to read next. I think I have it narrowed down to three titles:

    1. Maus
    2. Blankets
    3. From Hell

    “Maus”, a work for which it’s author, Art Spiegelman, won a Pulitzer, presents the story of Artie and his father’s experiences surviving the holocaust. “Blankets”, a memoir by Craig Thompson, explores the issues of an adolescent growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home. And lastly, we have “From Hell”, another work authored by Alan Moore, which presents a conspiracy theory involving Jack the Ripper. Intrigued? Perhaps you should check out a graphic novel… you never know, you might like it.