Last night I read the entire book of MAUS by Art Speiegelman. It’s a comic book relating the life of the author’s father through the holocaust.
There’s been lots of reviews talking about the fact that it is a comic book, and the fact that animals were used to portray people. To me though there were other aspects of the book that made me ponder.
Firstly, the author tells it as it is. He asked his father to tell him about the holocaust and records it on a dictaphone. What you read is what he heard. He also transcribes the conversations he had with his father that were just everyday conversations. The comic also has bits where he is discussing the comic itself with his dad and his wife. A meta comic. The author makes it clear that he is not trying to analyse what happened. There is no ‘message’ or ‘meaning’ behind what is written. It is just remembered facts told with little emotion. The fact that the author doesn’t have to state how horrific it was makes you realise how horrific it was. This story does not need embellishing, exaggerating or enhancements.
Secondly, it was great that we got to see things from the son’s perspective as well. We see that ‘survivor’s guilt’ extends to those born after the war. He is desperate to understand what happened by questioning his father, but although his father says what he can there are so many questions that cannot be answered. Creating the book causes a lot of stress for the author and we see him in the comic talking to his psychiatrist about the book. At one point, he isn’t a mouse (representing being Jewish) any more but he is a human wearing a mouse mask. This is when reporters are questioning him about the meaning of the book. I wonder if writing this made him question his own faith?
Thirdly, and I know it sounds strange, but I just couldn’t help seeing a relationship between the surviving the holocaust and the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad (need to put in link).
Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a financial self help book which fundamentally says that there are lots of opportunities open to everyone but you need to be able to notice those opportunities and to have the means to take them. Now this is talking about financial success but I kept thinking about this while reading Maus. In Maus the author’s dad (Vladek) survived the concentration camps by getting good work and extra food. He spotted the opportunity to work fixing shoes, for example, when a previous worker left. He noticed the opportunity and he was able to fix shoes well so he had the means to use it. When other people saw no hope, he saw more opportunities. For example at one point they were hearded into a cattle truck. They were so crowded that if they fainted they were stood on. Vladek saw some hooks on the ceiling and used his blanket to make a hammock. There were many other examples where his ability to notice opportunities and use his skills kept him alive.
Being able to spot opportunities, even in desperate times, is a skill that was necessary then. It’s also useful now for financial reasons. In any scenario, I’m sure, being able to spot opportunities is always a good thing.
It made me wonder if the ability to spot opportunities is a universal skill which is always useful in any situation? If so, is it something that people are born with or is it something that can be learnt?
So yes, great book, lots to think about, and definitely, definitely, makes me appreciate everything in my life so much!!