Friday, June 11, 2010

Reader's Diary #618- Art Spiegelman: Maus II

If you'll recall, I wasn't overly fond of Maus I when I read it last month. I didn't hate it, mind you, but didn't really feel it was worth the hype and I had a few questions. Fortunately, I kept with it.

Not only did I like Maus II much better, it ended up retroactively swaying my opinion on the first. Together, the two volumes seem more about the writing of the books themselves than the holocaust.

In this volume, Spiegelman wrestles with the success of the first book written five years earlier (which is surprising to me, as I still think it's the weaker of the two and doesn't quite work on its own). There's a very poignant scene with Spiegelman in a mouse mask at his writing desk which is perched atop of a pile of holocaust victims.

He's also wrestling with guilt over his clashes with his father, the one whose holocaust survival story constitutes the bulk of the book. We've all done this, we've all told ourselves that we're not entitled to self-pity. Look at how bad people in Yemen have it. Or those earthquake victims in Haiti. Really, my biggest worry right now is that I have a dent in the back of the van? Or worse, I'm feeling sad today and can't even think of a reason why? How dare I. Imagine being Art Spiegelman then. How can he complain about anything after all his father's gone through? How can he complain about his father? Powerful stuff.

Then there's the doubt about his own art. At one point he goes to his shrink's apartment and mentions that it's overrun with cats and dogs. "Can I mention this" he asks, "or does it completely louse up my metaphor?" Remember when I questioned the animals in my post about Maus I? It looks like Spiegelman himself questioned it. And now that I understand that the book is more about doubt and self-reflection and not being perfect, I'm better with it. Sure we get more of the holocaust, this time taking us into the horrors of Auschwitz, and it's powerful, no mistake about it, but it's the now that raises this book above others in this vein. And it's sneaky how Speigelman accomplishes this, when the present day takes up much fewer pages. I love how the frame becomes the story.


Meytal Radzinski said...

I sometimes wonder if I don't prefer volume 1 simply because it was the only book I had with me for a month long vacation and I just read it again and again and again. The two volumes never really felt like two halves of one book, though put together they certainly create a whole.

Your thoughts on Maus, even when they do not match my own, are quite interesting. These posts certainly make me want to go back and reread the collection.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have read neither book, but now am really curious to compare them.

Wanda said...

Still not sure that these are for me but I'm glad you had a better reading experience with this one.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely going to read The Complete Maus if and when I decide to read these books.

I've linked to this post on the WWII book reviews page at War Through the Generations.