Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book review: The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale, Art Spiegelman

A powerful book about a young man's coming to understand his father, and his own father's story of surviving the Holocaust.

I read it because it was on Time's list of 100 best non-fiction books, and I'm glad I did. It seemed that wherever I went with the book, someone stopped me to tell me how deeply it had affected them, and what a great book it is.

I thought it was very powerful, although I don't feel like I learned anything new about how people managed during that time. In fact, I'm sure that Spiegelman's story is not typical. Time and again he tells of how he happened to know someone, or had ingratiated himself in some way to an overseer that got him extra food or special privileges. And of course, he started out the ordeal with some wealth that he was able to retain. It was his ability to trade upon his money and his own resourcefulness that ultimately allowed him to save himself and his wife.

His extraordinary ability to bargain and persuade and push for what he wanted, and his singleminded determination, are what saved him. But it's easy to see how those qualities which were so important during wartime Poland didn't translate well to peacetime America. His son had a hard time understanding him, because he had no true concept of what his father had endured, and how he came to be that way.

His son did eventually reach out in order to learn about his story, and to try to connect with his father, although I didn't see their relationship improve much over the course of the story.

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