Posts Tagged ‘Jewish’

Cannonball 16: Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds HistoryMaus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first heard the premise of Maus, my interest was immediately piqued.

Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, was a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The graphic novel (the only one ever to win a Pulitzer, by the way) tells his father’s story of survival, depicting the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats. The Gentile Poles are pigs, Americans are dogs, and the French are frogs (cute one, Spiegelman).

I expected it to be a standard, harrowing tale of torment, starvation, brutality, and survival, but I got a lot more than I bargained for. Spiegelman not only tells his father’s story, but his own. Vladek’s story is told in the context of his son’s research. Art wants to write a comic about his father’s life during WWII, but it’s impossible for his research not to affect him because his subject is his father. His father is not perfect; he fights with his wife, constantly comparing her to his first wife (Vladek remarried after Art’s mother, Anja, took her own life), expects Art to help him do stuff around the house without asking first, and complains to his son about everything.

Spiegelman is brutally honest in his portrayal of his relationship with his father. When Art is so easily annoyed by his father’s pack-rat tendencies and miserliness, I can totally relate. Like Art, I grew up in the United States. We weren’t rich, but we never starved, and we never knew what it was to go without the basic comforts of life. But my parents lived through the Korean War, and saving random odds and ends helped them to survive.

hoarder

Okay, so my kitchen isn't quite this bad, but only because I'm vigilant about putting things away and throwing stuff out when my parents aren't looking.

I get annoyed with my parents for saving useless containers and using them as Tupperware, despite the fact that our cabinets are overflowing with actual Tupperware. I hate that there’s so much clutter and useless junk in our house. I recently noticed that my mother still keeps old Happy Meal toys in a curio cabinet in our living room. I hate that she gets so mad when I throw a pickle jar into the recycle bin after I finish all the pickles.

But I have no idea what it’s like to lose out on extra food for later because I don’t have anything to carry it in. I don’t know what it’s like to lose something and regret it because it’s not possible for me to buy a replacement. I change my clothes every day; I don’t know what it’s like to wear every article of clothing I own and still be cold.

And, yet, even though I know (objectively) what my parents suffered through, I still can’t help but think, But the war is over now! and get annoyed that my parents don’t seem to understand that.

Spiegelman sets up a fair bit of tension between his horror at what his father had to endure, his admiration for his father’s survival skills, and his inability to use that understanding of his father’s history to be nicer to him.

The first volume of Maus takes us right to the gates of Auschwitz, and Vladek has already lost a son to the genocide. And it’s not only the way that Spiegelman tells Vladek’s story that’s compelling, but also the way he shows his audience what it took for him to personally get that story to tell it.

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Cannonball 8: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is IlluminatedEverything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn’t really get all the hype over this book.

The story concerns young Jonathan Safran Foer (yes, the main character has the same name as the author), a young American Jew on a quest to uncover his family history in the Ukraine to research a novel he wants to write. Assisting him on this quest are Alex, his translator, Alex’s “blind” grandfather, and his “seeing-eye bitch,” Sammy Davis, Jr., Jr. There are shenanigans. I didn’t think many of them were too terribly interesting.

The parts with Alex narrating were spectacularly hard for me to read. He speaks in this fragmented English, full of malapropisms. I take one look at that page full of hyphens and unreadable English and I have to fight every instinct that urges me to just skip it.

There are flashes of brilliance, however. Foer’s account of the history of Trachimbrod, the shtetl from which Foer’s ancestors are believed to have lived, is often moving and well-told. The story of Brod, Foer’s great-great-great-etc. grandmother, was just so sweet and sad.

But I think the book was way over-hyped for me. People kept talking about how funny it was, and I didn’t laugh once. And people continually rave about how it was such a groundbreaking book and that it would usher in a new era of modern literature and stuff. To me, it just seemed full of cheap gimmicks and self-importance. Ooh, look at what I can do!! I’m inventive! It seemed more a master’s thesis on literary gymnastics than an actual novel.

Overall, my impression of the book was one big “meh.” After reading this one, I can’t say that I was all too eager to read any more Foer. But I did.

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I Can Haz Response? Part I: lainiefig, Yossarian, Snuggiepants the Deathbringer, Andrew, dg, Marcus, Patty O’Green, & nigguh bob

Right, so, I promised I’d respond to the comments on my recent Pajiba Review, but I realized that there’s just too much on there to respond to everything in one comment. But I thought there were a lot of insightful and thought-provoking comments, and so I thought I’d single out some of my faves to respond to.

And then I started responding to my chosen comments and realized that there were even too many of those, so now I’m splitting my responses into two posts. Not that anyone besides me is even reading that thread anymore.

And I want to thank Nicole Fuscia and Dustin Rowles for putting the review on Pajiba in the first place. I think it really speaks to Pajiba’s integrity that the site’s policy of open-mindedness applies to Christians as well as atheists and Scientologists and Marxists.

Now, I do feel the need to address the lack of… well, reviewing in my review. I really honestly didn’t think that review was eligible for CBR. That’s why I marked the original post as a “Regular Read” and didn’t count it towards my CBR count.

And since I was only writing it to satisfy my own obsessive need to review every last book I read, I thought to myself that the only people who would ever read it were maybe Nicole and my three regular readers, who attend my church. I know that those girls are familiar with the contents of these so-called “pink books” (the covers of books for Christian women are so often pink and/or purple), so I didn’t feel the need to get into the details of what the book was teaching.

It was lazy and I’ll admit it. Yossarian, amongst others, was absolutely right when he pointed out that the review was heavy on the opinion and light on the review. BTW, Yoss, I really appreciate your willingness to defend my right to freely believe as I choose, even if you don’t agree with those beliefs. I would absolutely do the same for you, buddy.

I just don’t want you guys to think that I’m normally that lazy when reviewing a book.

But, now: the comments.

Natural 20 and Neodiogenes: Thanks for the book recs; I’ll defs check ’em out.

lainiefig: Madd propz to you. Being a full-time mom has to be the most difficult, but most rewarding job on earth. And thank you for your warm wishes. When I grow up, I wanna be just like lainiefig.

Yossarian: Once again, your assessment of my review was totally fair. I can appreciate that you’re (constructively) criticizing my review and not my beliefs. I really didn’t do a very good job of explaining what the actual book was about.

For clarification’s sake, the book’s stand on biblical womanhood is that women should be excellent workers in the home. This doesn’t mean that they can’t also be excellent workers outside the home, but it does mean that their priority ought to be in the home. So if a woman is the number one salesperson at her sales job, but her husband feels neglected and her children are out of control, then she’s remiss in her spiritual duties to her family.

I know that this might seem like “housewife s***” (as Brenton so eloquently put it). But, as lainiefig can probably tell you, it’s so much more than that. It’s not just keeping things clean and bringing your husband a beer while he watches the game with his friends. It’s being the rock around which the home is built. It’s training up one’s children in righteousness. It’s building a haven for family and friends, a place that exudes love and comfort.

Being this woman requires crazy organizational skills, diligence and discipline, as much intelligence as she can muster (because not even stupid people want their kids to grow up stupid), superhuman patience, a sharp instinct and intuition for understanding her children and her husband (not just to anticipate their every want, but also to sense when getting what they want is bad for them), a hero’s courage (because, as lainiefig can probably also tell you, it can be really, really discouraging and disheartening sometimes) — I could go on and on.

But what I will say is that, according to the Bible, all this hard work is not without reward. Proverbs 31 (that’s right, Snuggiepants’ theme song) says that “her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (verses 28-31).

Yossarian also wanted to know: I would be interested to know specific things that you found helpful.

There were a few practical things I found helpful. For example, they provided a table to help the reader organize her finances. They also suggested that the reader prioritize daily time to spend in reading the Bible and praying. With all of the things that a godly woman has to get done in a day, it’s easy to let personal time with God fall to the wayside. They suggest that the reader find an older, mature woman to mentor her and give her advice and simply listen to her when she needs a shoulder to cry on.

Was there anything that you disagreed with?

Actually, the reason that I didn’t this book very much was that there were so many tips that it was a little overwhelming, and, after a while, I couldn’t remember why I thought I ought to practice these things — I was too busy feeling guilty about all the things I wasn’t doing that this book was telling me I should do.

So I guess I disagreed with the insinuation that a godly woman ought to live by tables and flash cards with Bible verses written on them and schedules. I think those things are very helpful, and Lord knows I could use some more structure in my life. But I thought the direction of the book was a little rigid.

In trying to help women be more pleasing to God, I thought they actually obscured Him with all of these practical tips. Let’s not forget the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42).

Martha invited Jesus over and was getting ready for his visit. She was doing all the things a good hostess does, I’m sure. But, when He arrived, the Bible tells us that “Martha was distracted with much serving” (verse 40). When she complained that she was doing all the work while Mary just sat and listened to Him talk, Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (verses 41-42).

Jesus was saying that it’s more important to cultivate a relationship with Him than to get all the housekeeping done. And I did feel like this book actually cultivated more of Martha’s heart in me than Mary’s. That might be because I’m more prone to be like Martha than like Mary, but, then again, so are most people. I wish the authors had taken that into consideration a bit more.

If anyone has a problem with you making your own choices and living your own life as you choose we’ll smack them down for you.

I love you, Yoss. And not just because of that comment, either. You always have valuable insights to contribute to various threads all over Pajiba. Not to mention hilarious jabs galore — congrats on making EE this week, btw.

Snuggiepants said: I mean, actually living your life exactly according to Jesus’ teachings is NOT easy. No. Absolutely not. Radical, radical stuff, that is.

But having a relationship with God? Not difficult in the least. I don’t think it’s meant to be. So I haven’t found any sort of instructional materials (besides, again, the teachings of Jesus) to be necessary.

Amen to that. I mean, books are a nice shortcut, sometimes, and there are lots of books that have helped me to grow in my understanding of the Bible, but the Bible says that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (1 Peter 1:3). Ultimately, we’ll find all we need to please Him in the pages of Scripture.

Snuggie to Yossarian: The man may be the head, but the woman is the neck. And the neck can TURN the head.
–My Big Fat Greek Wedding

HA!! But so true. The woman is the ultimate influence in her family. There are so many examples in the Bible of women who influence their husbands for good (like Abigail) or also for evil (like Jezebel).

Andrew: I’m not trying to attack or deconvert you, but why would you worship a god who thinks that you are inferior? … Now, if you heard this from any other source, how would you respond? Would you say, “Yep, exactly right,” or would you call him out as a misogynist?

Andrew, I want to thank you for even throwing your hat in the ring. I thought your comments were clear and pointed without being disrespectful or disparaging. I know that these sorts of conversations can quickly veer from calm discussion into angry ranting, so I applaud you for having the courage to wade in and ask your honest questions. It requires courage to take a stand on either side of the discussion.

And, to answer your question, I don’t believe that God asks the woman to submit because He thinks she is inferior. In fact, Jesus Himself submitted to the Father, even though He is God (Philippians 2:5-8). God didn’t think Jesus was inferior. And He doesn’t think I’m inferior. In fact, because Jesus submitted to His Father in this, God highly exalted Him (Philippians 2:9).

According to the Bible, He had to create her because man couldn’t cut it by himself (Genesis 2:18). He needed her, not t’other way around.

Now, about what you said from 1 Corinthians 11, that talks about women submitting to their husbands (“the woman” and “the man” — not all women and all men. Women are only to submit to their own husbands (Ephesians 5:22)). I don’t take that as an insult to me or to my intelligence because God doesn’t mean it as an insult.

Back in those days, women were second-class citizens. They couldn’t inherit anything; everything they had was tied to their husbands. They couldn’t have an identity apart from their husbands. But, in the Bible, God calls women co-heirs. That was a pretty big deal for women back then. Their inheritance in heaven wasn’t tied to their husbands. It was only tied to their own personal, individual faith in Jesus.

God values women, and He doesn’t see them as second-class citizens any more than He sees His own Son as a second-class citizen. God elevated Jesus through His submission, and He elevates women through theirs — first to God, and then to their husbands.

1 Peter 3:15

You’re absolutely right. We are to be ready with an answer for our hope. This doesn’t mean, however, that we’ll be able to answer every single question that anyone has. The answer for my hope isn’t something like, “I know God is real because of all of these evidences.”

The answer for my hope is that I measured myself against the standard of God’s holiness and despaired because I couldn’t measure up. But God, through the Bible gave me this good news: the punishment for my sin was laid on Him and the reward for His perfect life was laid on me. And all I needed to do to make this promise mine was to believe that it was true.

And that was the answer I needed. And that’s why I am confident that, when I die, I will be in heaven, where I will see Jesus face-to-face for the first time.

So, I don’t think it’s meant to be an answer for every argument. According to the Bible, only God knows everything. It’s only meant to be an answer for the faith that we have. “Why do you believe what you believe?” I believe it because the Bible tells me so, and I see it proven true every day in my life.

Could atheists say the same? Absolutely. So why do I think I’m right and atheists are wrong? Because what I believe isn’t based on something I’ve deduced with my own reasoning. I’m a human, and nobody’s perfect, which means that I make mistakes. But God is perfect, and the Bible tells us that He doesn’t make mistakes.

That’s not meant to be a “I’m right because God is with me” sort of statement. Anyone who tries to manipulate the Bible to say what they want it to say is distorting the truth. I shouldn’t change the Bible to make it fit my pre-existing worldview. Instead, I should let the Bible form my worldview.

Sorry, I feel like I’m going on a lot of tangents, here. I’ll move on.

Throwing out clearly immoral concepts is fine with me.

But what constitutes a “clearly” immoral concept? Who defines what’s clearly immoral and what’s not? Society? Whose society? Is there really a clearly outline set of concepts that every human being in the world agrees is immoral?

If so, why? Because humanity is hard-wired to a certain level of morality? I believe it is. I believe that God created people with consciences. But consciences can be seared or dulled — my conscience was never meant to be my only measure of morality. The Bible says that this is why He gave us the Law (the Torah, to those of a Hebrew persuasion out there). The Law is meant to show us our shortcomings.

It is not, however, meant to save us. If we could be saved by the Law, then we’d essentially be able to save ourselves. This would mean that we’re capable of living perfectly, but the Bible (and experience) show us that this isn’t possible (Romans 3:10, 23).

So what kind of messed-up God gives His people a Law that’s impossible to follow? Well, He didn’t just leave them with the Law and say, “Good luck with that, suckas!!”

He gave them faith. Every person in the Old Testament who obeyed God did so out of faith and love, not out of fear and duty. Hebrews 11 says that Abraham believed God, and THAT’S what was counted to him as righteousness.

Sorry, another rabbit hole. All that just to say that, if you believe in absolute truth, you believe in absolute truth. And if you don’t believe in absolute truth, then you still believe in absolute truth because that statement is itself an absolute statement (hope that didn’t sound flippant. I just don’t have the time or space to get into all that right now. Maybe in another post).

Imagine a world where every Christian was happy and did good works and fed the poor and saved puppies while all atheists were depressed cynics who only cared about themselves. Even if that were true, it still would say nothing as to the existence of a god. A false belief (or one for which there is no evidence that it’s true) can still inspire people to do good things.

Andrew, seriously, I appreciate the way you think. These are great arguments and I hope my responses do them some sort of justice.

It’s absolutely true that the ends don’t speak to the truth of the means. If that were the case, then Christianity sucks because there are so many people who claim to be Christians whose lives totally fly in the face of everything the Bible teaches. That would be proof that Christianity is not true.

That said, I don’t think that the absence of this world of happy Christians and depressed atheists disproves the existence of God, either.

I agree with almost everything you say here. My only objection is that we should not respect people’s beliefs. We should respect their right to hold those beliefs and we should defend their right to have them, but the beliefs themselves do not automatically get respect just because people have them.

I actually agree with you here, too. One of the greatest things about America is the freedom to believe whatever ridiculous thing you want. That said, some of the things people believe are ridiculous. I mean, believing that you have little aliens living in you and you can pay your way to a higher plane of enlightenment? *eye roll*

(No disrespect to any Scientologists out there. But it does sound pretty far-fetched to me. And I believe that a man rose from the dead and is waiting to reward me in heaven after I die!)

Thanks again, Andrew, for your comments. I wish I could give more time to them, but I’ve already been working on this blog post for two days and I have to move on to everyone else eventually. But if you live in LA, I’d love to get together and chat more about it.

dg: is this book suggesting that all women are called to this role? Can men be called to this role?

The book doesn’t say that all women are called to this role — thanks for asking for that clarification, dg. Pat Ennis is actually single, as am I. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have homes or families. I live at home with my parents. My parents want me to live with them, so I submit to them by doing so. I help clean and cook, but since it’s really my mom’s house, I can attend to this duty and still hold down a full-time job (and spend plenty of time on Pajiba, to boot).

But if they wanted me to get out and live on my own, I’d happily do that, too. I’d take care of my own little home (or apartment, since I live in SoCal and there’s NO WAY I’d be able to afford a house), but since I don’t have a husband or kids, I’d probably have plenty of time to keep holdin’ down that (boring, low-paying) steady job.

As for men, the Bible is clear that their calling is to be the breadwinner in the home and to lead the family. The Bible says that a husband will have to answer to God for the way in which he led his wife and children. Yikes. I’d personally rather not have that responsibility. I’d rather blame our family’s shortcomings on El Hubbo. 😉

And, dg, about your responses to jen, Patty, and Andrew — I couldn’t have said it better myself. But I had to try, right? 😉

Marcus: Ummm, people, hate to piss on your god parade, but this is Pajiba, “Scathing Reviews, B*tchy People”, and you’ve just read the first review of 2010, hardly scathing, and hardly b*tchy, in fact, quite bible-womanly, which is to say, out of site and earshot, cleaning the home. So, now that you’ve been informed once again that you’re reading Pajiba, don’t you think you’ve been had? ;-P

Fair enough, Marcus; fair enough. That’s my latest New Year’s Resolution: to write a review of which even Marcus would approve.

Did I mention that I never meant for that review to make the site?

Patty O’Green: I have always been taught (conservative upbringing) that if the Bible says it, it is true – no debating.

Sadly, that’s how a lot of conservative upbringings go. Let’s be clear that “conservative” doesn’t always mean “Christian”. I was raised in pretty much the same way as you, Patty, but it’s certainly not how I plan to raise my kids (should I ever have them).

I’m planning to teach them that if the Bible says it, it is true. Now, debate away!

I agree to a point with what Patty said about there being no faith without doubt. We all have doubts; to deny that is pointless. But stuffing them deep down doesn’t get rid of them. Unless one works through those doubts, then they still exist and that faith isn’t anchored in truth, but in tradition.

However, I don’t think the genuineness of one’s faith is proven by overcoming past doubts or disproved by never having been tested. Theoretically, it’s possible to get it right the first time. If someone tells me and my friend a fact and she believes him, but I don’t and have to research the fact for myself to come to the same conclusion, does that mean that I believe the fact more? No, we believe the fact the same; I just took a little longer to come around.

I think, though, that the point is to work through one’s doubts and not around them. God created humans with intellect. It pleases Him when they use it.

nigguh bob: i have a question. if the bible is obviously skewed due to the social context of when it was written, then why was this book written as an interpretation for the purpose of teaching women (a societal roll which changes throughout history) about how to act “right?” Do the authors want women to act how they were told to act in the bible?

I wouldn’t say that it’s skewed because of the social and cultural context. The principles still hold. For example, back in the day, men would greet each other with a kiss on the cheek — something that they still do in some countries. But you generally don’t see that here in SoCal. So when the Bible says to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16), Christians don’t take that literally. It just means that they’re to greet one another with affection — however that manifests in their culture. In Kazakhstan, that’s cheek-kissing. Here in SoCal, it’s fist bumps and bro-hugs (that’s what I call it when guys go in for the handshake and then turn it into a one-armed hug).

But I digress. The authors never say that they’re trying to teach women how to act “right” in those words, but they do teach the principles behind the verses in the Bible about women. Some of those principles include nurturing one’s relationship with God, prioritizing the family (husband first and then children), and managing the home with excellence.

My biggest problem with the book was that it was awfully specific — in a way that the Bible really isn’t. I know that their intent is to give their readers ways to cultivate good habits and stuff, but giving a girl like me a list of things to do is a surefire way to make sure that I lose focus on the God I’m supposed to be pleasing and instead focus on checking tasks off that list.

***

Okay, that’s all I’ve got so far. alon said some really interesting things, too, and I’m still muddling through how to address them. But I promise I’m working on getting there, and whether it matters to anyone but me and God, I do want to get there.

Thanks for reading, Pajibans. You people are too cool. 🙂