Posts Tagged ‘vladek spiegelman’

Cannonball 17: Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman

Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles BeganMaus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second volume of Maus covers a lot of ground. It talks about Vladek’s time at Auschwitz. It talks about the author’s fears for the future of his relationship with his father — and his guilt over not wanting to have to take care of an ailing man who has suffered so much, but is unrelenting in his demands of his grown son.

Spiegelman paints a vivid picture of the horrors of a death camp, although these horrors are mitigated a bit by the cartoonishness of the animal characters. I don’t know if I’d be able to stomach them otherwise. His father suffered through horrors that I can’t even begin to imagine, no matter how many times I watch “Band of Brothers” and “Schindler’s List.”

But, as with his first volume, he doesn’t pull any punches with his father, either. It can be easy to almost deify Holocaust survivors, to think of them all as saints. It kind of reminds me of how, in the days right after 9/11, everyone kept calling the people who had died “heroes.” For the most part, they weren’t any different from anyone else on the street; they didn’t volunteer to die in this tragedy. They were mostly normal people with normal lives, and, had they survived, they would still occasionally have fought with their spouses and snapped at their children and ignored bums asking for change like most of the rest of us.

Vladek survived a terrible ordeal, and what happened to him should never happen to anyone. But he wasn’t a perfect person going into it, and he wasn’t perfect coming out of it, either.

cosby show

Obviously, Vladek didn't grow up watching "The Cosby Show."

Spiegelman describes one instance in which he and his wife pick up a hitchhiker on the side of the road. The hitchhiker is African-American, and Vladek is stupefied by what he sees as their foolishness. After all, this “shvartzer” (a Yiddish slur) could steal their money or their groceries! Art and his wife are horrified by Vladek’s racism, but when they try to point out that it’s tantamount to the German’s views on the Jews, Vladek just can’t see it.

It reminds me of an episode from my youth. Tom Bradley had just been re-elected as the mayor of Los Angeles. He was the first (and, to date, the only) African-American mayor of LA, and our teachers in school used the opportunity to teach us that anyone could be anything they wanted to be, no matter what their race. When I excitedly told my dad about it later that night, he said that he didn’t like Tom Bradley. When I asked why, he simply replied, “Because he’s black.”

Having been taught at school that racism was bad, I was shocked to discover that my father, when it came to civil rights, was one of the bad guys. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that the reason because my dad was racist was because he owned a market in the ghetto of Long Beach, and that most of the people who stole from the store were African-American and Latino. That was his only experience with other minorities; he disliked black people the way I dislke hipsters. He’d just never met a nice one.

hipster kitty

It wasn’t right, but I couldn’t say that, had my parents not bought a house in the nicer parts of Long Beach so that I could go to the district’s better schools, which taught that all people are created equal, regardless of the color of their skin, I wouldn’t be a racist myself. I didn’t agree, but I understood why.

And Here My Troubles Began is a worthy successor to My Father Bleeds History. It continues to explore all of the themes and tell all of the stories that Spiegelman set up in the first volume. My only nitpick was that the ending was a bit abrupt.

But, I guess, when a story’s over, it’s over.

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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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