26 October 2008

Mauses and Night

I tore through Maus 1 and 2 by Art Spiegelman as well as Night by Elie Wiesel last night and this afternoon. These books are all amazing. Shocking and sickening but amazing. I don't know if I've read any Holocaust lit at all; i've never read Anne Frank, though I've seen the play.

Maus 1 and 2 cover the story of the author's father, Vladek, as he struggles to keep himself, his wife, and others alive. We are told the story piecemeal, as the author was, as Spiegelman visits his father. This is also the story of a son trying to understand his father. We see Spiegalman and his father fighting and fussing. There seems to be a huge disconnection between father and son and even between the father's young personality and older personality. The younger Vladek seems resourceful and bright but the older Vladek just seems anal and OCD and very sad. Though he's survived and made a good life for himself and his family, he's living in the shadow of his past. He can't let go of the habits he formed during the war and can't simply enjoy the life he has now. There also seems to be a lot of guilt, from father and son, about the death of the wife/mother in the story. She commits suicide when the author was 20 and leaves no note or explanation. Maus is a slice of a story, the much longer story of the Spiegelman family and Jewish and American history, and as such has no real ending. These are a 6.

Night is so different. i am sure much of the difference is the first person perspective instead of the second-hand story in Maus. Also, Wiesel first published Night in 1958, Spiegelman released the first part of Maus in the 70's. Night is darker, bitterer, heavier, and deeply philosophical. We see many of the same events as in Maus: the German takeover, the marginalizing of Jews in general, then specifically living in ghettos, and finally the descent into the camps. Wiesel is 14 when he is sent with his family to Birkenau; he and his father lie about their ages (Wiesel says he is 18, his father says he's only 40) and avoid the gas chambers. They end up in the work camp, from which only Wiesel himself survives. The spiritual or philosophical part is where we view Wiesel going from a very pious, religious youngster to the haunted, angry survivor he becomes. This is a 7.

I wonder what i would have done if i'd really not liked one. Can you not like books like these and still be a good person? i mean, i could see racist skinhead deniers not liking these books. So i can see that But these aren't just straight lit. They are moving portrayals of survival in horrible circumstances. You can't really say you enjoy them; i was moved, challenged and shocked. I felt terrible for the protagonists and ashamed of humanity. i wouldn't say i enjoyed the books and i highly recommend them.

so apparently if i stop with all the internet and cable my reading will increase.

2 comments:

  1. I say, yes you can dislike these books and still be a good person. Though I like them both very much. You can dislike the way something is written or a plot is structured, etc. I recently read Uncle Tom's Cabin and basically hated it but that has nothing to do with my political views on slavery or the Civil War.

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  2. Maus was the first graphic novel I ever read, and I was totally sold from there on. When I taught high school I had a World Lit class full of 10th graders and we read night out loud in class over the course of a week or so. They loved it (if love is really the right word). It's an incredibly powerful book.

    As for not liking Holocaust lit, I have to admit: not a fan of Anne Frank. I was disappointed--thought she was a bit more of a brat than edxpected. The message was good of course, it's definitely a classic, but in the annals of Holocaust list, just not my fave.

    Another great Holocaust fiction book: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. AMAZING!

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