02 July 2011


All right, I am thoroughly ashamed of myself for not having posted for so long. My excuse--that I have been busy--is insufficient. Please forgive me! *pleads for mercy* I would like to try to post book reviews regularly until I go back to school. That's all I'll guarantee for now.

I usually review books with chapters on my book blog--a bit of a no-brainer there, right?--but today I am going to review a comic book instead. Why? Because Art Spiegelman's inventive, disturbing memoir/family history Maus is just that good. I have long wanted to read this Pulitzer Prize-winning comic book, ever since I heard about it in my freshman English Comp 2 class, but I never had a chance to until this past spring semester when my awesome roommate gave me a copy because she knows I like history.

As I have discussed at length on this blog before, World War II is one of my obsessions and, as someone who is part Jewish, the Holocaust is a subject that simultaneously fascinates and repulses me. I've read a lot of great Holocaust memoirs, but I have never read one quite like Maus, in which Spiegelman records his father Vladek's survival during the Holocaust, chronicling his often troubled relationship with his father some thirty years after the war as Art interviews Vladek about his experiences.

Rather than Art, who is a cartoonist, merely drawing his father and the other characters as realistically as possible, Spiegelman opts instead to draw the Jews as mice and the Nazis, as well as other Germans, as cats. The animal theme is carried over even further with the Poles as pigs, French as frogs, and Americans as dogs. The result is surreal and unnerving but also a bit more accessible than other Holocaust stories precisely because even though you know you're reading about something that actually happened, you're not faced with seeing human characters in those situations. The fantastical element does nothing to diminish the tragedy. In addition, the plot itself is gripping--I couldn't put the book down, even though I knew I had to be up at 5:30 the next morning for work.

I think what elevates Maus above other comic books, besides the somber subject matter, is the quality of the artwork and the depth of the characters. Even though the characters are all drawn as animals, their mannerisms are all too human and Spiegelman does a great job of portraying that. In addition, if you look closely, there's usually something happening in the background, whether it's funny, quirky, or sad. That attention to detail is exactly one of the reasons why I enjoyed this book so much. My inner English major likes to search for minute detail. . . .

Though Spiegelman makes his father and himself the subject of the Maus, he makes no effort to whitewash either of them. Sometimes his elderly father comes off as cantakerous and petty, though he also proves himself to be kind and clever. Art even draws himself as impatient with his father and unwilling to humor him. As you read Maus, you realize that the book is just as much a form of therapy for Art as it is a tale of his father's survival. It is my humble opinion that many artists and writers who embark on such a project often end up letting their emotions and close personal ties to the story overwhelm the piece and compromise its quality in the process. Not so with Maus. Art's central role in the story only adds to its complexity--and its complexity is exactly what puts this comic book leagues ahead of others like it.

If you're looking for a bit of variety in your reading list, add Maus. This book is one of the best, most inventive, and most haunting I've read in a long time. I think everyone should read Maus once.
Next Time: Probably Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. I make no promises, though.
This Week In Literary History: 30 June 1936: Margaret Mitchell's Civil War epic Gone With The Wind is published. All right, confession time. I have actually never read this novel, but I have watched the 1939 Oscar-winning film adaptation, and I enjoyed it. That counts for something, right? RIGHT? Ahem. Anyway, this one is on my to-read list.


    Ahem. Now that that is out of my system...
    I love graphic novels and you know how I share your history obsession, so I've been meaning to read this for a while. Now that you've given it suxh a good review I'm going to have to go out and find it.
    Thanks Zella. So happy to read you again!


    Oooh, do tell me your opinion of Maus when you read it, Penguins. I think you'll enjoy it.


    I saw this on your Goodreads book list and thought it looked interesting; reading your review makes it seem even better. But I think my brother would really like it. He's a history major and loves manga, so it should fit his likes. I'll have to tell him about it!

    So, how has college been? I'm off to my freshmen year in August!!

  4. Oh and I also wanted to let you know that I LOVE STREETCAR SO MUCH!!!! :D

  5. Oooh, good! Do tell me what you and your brother think of it when you get a chance to read it. :)

    Glad you liked Streetcar! I had a feeling you would. :)

    College is going well. I learned last semester that one should never, ever take 4 literature classes in one semester--Yikes!--but other than that, it is fine. I love my writing center job, and I've enjoyed taking upper division English and history classes. I enjoyed most of my gen. ed. classes, but it's nice to have a schedule full of nerdy classes to look forward to.

    Congrats on going off to college! I bet you're excited. :D

  6. We definitely will! :)

    Thanks! I am so freaking excited! :) And nervous, but I'm trying not to focus on that part. :)

    Hmm. 4 Literature classes does seem like a lot. Did you take history classes too? You are one brave soul! :) I'll have to remember that when I start getting into my upper college yeas. I'm not sure if I already asked, but what are your concentrations in? I think I want to concentrate in Gothic literature, but I'm not really positive.

  7. Hehe Yeah, it is a little nerve-wracking. But try not to worry about it. I think you'll enjoy college. :)

    I didn't take any history classes last semester--either they didn't appeal to me or they conflicted with another class I needed more desperately. Last semester I had the four lit. classes, a writing center theory and methodology class, and a gen. ed. class. Next semester is far more balanced: 2 lit. classes, a creative writing class, 2 history classes, and German I.

    When it comes to balancing upper-division classes, try to hold back a couple of easy gen ed classes for those years. They're life-savers. :D

    My school doesn't really offer concentrations for English and history majors--our departments are just a little too small. Nevertheless, for grad school, as of right now, I'm leaning toward American modernism for English and Russian History and/or Nazi Germany for history. Gothic would be fun. I love Southern Gothic lit. especially!

  8. Thanks for the tips! :) I'll make sure to keep them in mind. My schedule for this coming year seems to be pretty easy; Intro to Communication, Intro to Psychology, Intro to Anthropology, Theatre Appreciation, and what I refer to as my Library Class. I already have interests in most of these classes so I think that will help out. :)

    Your grad school picks sound good! But it'd be tough to choose between Russian or Nazi Germany, I like them both too. I'd go Russian, mainly because I am Russian. :P American modernism is like Streetcar, right? Or am I completely off?

    I'm really not looking forward to taking a science class. I already took my math requirement in high school though, so at least that's out of the way.

  9. Yeah, it helps to find your classes interesting. :D

    Well, technically modernism covers literature between WWI and WWII, so Faulkner, Fiztgerald, Steinbeck, etc. Literature after WWII, like Streetcar, is technically postmodern, which I am a huge fan of, as well.

    I chickened out and took biology and geology for my science classes. I've read that people who are more into literature and history, i.e. fact and not math-based stuff, fare better in information-based science classes, such as those two, rather than chemistry or physics. Does your school offer an elective like biology or geology? That'd have to trump chemistry. :D

  10. Oh yes. Postmodern is what i was thinking of. Gosh, I really need to study literature time periods more. I've only just made the transition from book junkie to literature junkie, though I do still classify myself as both. Basically, I just like to read. :)

    I never knew that! Yes, they offer both biology and geology. I'm definitely taking those two now, and not chemistry. I do not want to relive the awfulness that was AP Chemistry. *shudders*

    My brother has heard of this book! But he hasn't read it yet. :( I'm going to make him though, even if he seem only mildly interested, I think he would really like it.

  11. Fear not! I didn't make that transition until my freshman year of college, to be quite frank.

    Yes, stay far, far away from chemistry! The fact that you were brave enough to endure AP Chemistry astounds me! I was very cowardly about science classes in high school, a trait that followed me into college. I almost took a chemistry class because the professor was really good--he's the only one I would have taken chemistry with--but it conflicted with my schedule, so I took geology. In retrospect, I am so glad I did! Yay for being cowardly!