I have transcended to a new level of geek (and the fact that I think of it as levels also gives me extra points). Yes there was the time of much Buffy, the quantum physics and when I started hearing All Along The Watchtower and thinking of cylons before Bob Dylan. But now there are graphic novels. Yes.
I’m a voracious reader, but I’ve always been a bit snobbish about graphic novels and thought of them as ‘less than’. There’s no way something largely made up of simple drawings could have the depth and power of a novel. Completely wrong.
Maus is the story of Art Spiegelman’s dad’s experience of the Holocaust, but also his strained relationship with him in the present and about how the release and popularity of part 1 affected him (Maus is actually in two parts, though I have both in one book). Art draws the Jews as mice, the Nazis as cats and the Poles as pigs. This doesn’t trivialise what’s going on, if anything the added distance makes the fact it is truth seem more horrifying. It also reminds you that this is how people were segregated, by race.
The book is an extremely open and honest account, particularly concerning his difficult relationship with his dad (Vladek) and life with Vladek in the present. This isn’t a sentimentalised story of survival, it’s brutal. The horrific things that Vladek, Anja (Art’s mother) and others go through are told and shown, but so is the aftermath. Anja survives the camps but struggles to deal with what happened and later commits suicide. The skills that enabled Vladek to survive cause him problems in the present and he is, surprisingly, racist. Even though Art wasn’t alive during the war, the aftermath affects him too, through his parents and trying to impossibly live up to a brother who died during the Holocaust. Maus is a book about unbelievable survival, but also about how suffering begets suffering.
Maus won a Pulitzer Prize and is now widely studied as literature, art and history. It was a book that affected me immensely, in part because of its brutal honesty, but also because Vladek’s survival is incredible.
I think I will always prefer ‘proper’ novels, but I’d really like to read more of the graphic kind. The problem is, knowing nothing about this new seam of reading, I have no idea where to start. I’d like something else that’s rich and dark and multifaceted, but what? Any suggestions always welcome.