REVIEW – Maus by Art Spiegelmann

Well it finally happened – I have waded into reviewing something Holocaust-y. I guess given my PhD is on Holocaust survivors I would be hard-pressed to avoid writing something review like.

But I want to avoid the academic style review and just be very free with how Maus made me feel.

So Maus is a tale of Art Spiegelmann’s discussions with his father about his time in Auschwitz, before Art’s birth, told in graphical novel form. The childlike quality of using this medium really did feel inspired, as Art explored his own resentments towards his father Vladek and what made him that way. Exploring what Vladek and Anja did to survive, the strokes of luck that may have saved their lives, and the trauma to live with afterwards, to varying levels of success.

Past and present were beautifully interwoven as Vladek’s health and personal life deteriorated in the present and he mourned his beloved Anja, to the detriment of Mala. In fact, we don’t see much of Mala except from Vladek’s skewed perspective and I would have loved to see more of her personality rather than Vladek’s unreasonable view of her. She seemed like she dealt with a lot when it came to him! Anyway, I digress with my rantings about unreliable narrators and miserable albeit traumatised men…

Maus is an evocative glimpse into the struggles between the first and second generation when it comes to survivors – which is something that gets oral historians like me fairly excited (don’t get me started on identity formation and historical trauma, I’ll never shut up). And there has been SO much written about how a parents trauma can weave its way into the lives of their children, and Art Spiegelmann captures this with his reflective look on his parents’ time in Auschwitz – ‘I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they went through…I guess it’s some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did’. The thought of a survivor’s child, completely distant chronologically from the event, never experiencing it first hand, can feel the remnants of those emotions, no matter how well their parents hid their feelings and threw themselves into family life is so poignant and that is what stayed with me.

You’re taken on a journey with Art and his father, where the present tries to reconcile itself with the past and the second generation feel this sense of frustration of trying to understand what their parents experienced during the Holocaust. In Art’s words – ‘I feel so inadequate trying to reconstruct a reality that was worse than my darkest dreams’. And recently, I can’t help but wonder whether his sentiments are the same as many Holocaust historians.

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REVIEW – The Last Safe Place by Ninie Hammon

Gabriella Carmichael is a poet/songwriter turned author who springs to fame as the author of a novel focusing on the Beast of Babylon, whose mission is for ‘Zara’ to come willingly to him and become his bride. Yesheb Al Tobbanoft is a troubled man with a troubled history, from a rich billionaire oil-baron type family. He believes he is the Beast, and Gabriella his Zara, her son Ty being the innocent human sacrifice needed to seal their union.

What I really loved about this book was how Yesheb was able to use his money, power and influence that stemmed from his family to stalk Gabriella. It adds a rather scary dimension to know that not only is this guy unstable and determined to find you, but he has the resources to track you down no matter how well you’re hidden, and the know how to clean up after himself and make you look crazy.

Gabriella’s flight from Yesheb takes her to a small Colorado town called St Elmo’s Fire, a place from her childhood with memories she would rather forget. But it’s secluded, protective and safe. Her company is her father in law Theo. her son Ty and their exceptionally intelligent and protective dog PD (Puppy Dog), along for the extremely bumpy ride.

The novel unwraps that each character has their own secrets and their own personal demons to deal with, and to a certain extent everything does come to the fore in the end, occasionally quite tragically as we’ve grown to expect from psychological thrillers.

The ending for me was second to none, as it didn’t fall into the stereotypical tropes – Gabriella didn’t submit herself to Yesheb, Yesheb didn’t just give up on his delusion and leave and it all got wrapped up rather nicely. I admire the courage Gabriella conveyed in the ending, as she realised as the author of the book, she had the power – Zara had to come willingly, it was a central strand to the plot. Of course things are rarely that cut and dry, I would have been disappointed had it been so simple.

A lovely little departure from my Game of Thrones binge reading, I thoroughly enjoyed this little escape into a different world.

Brief Respite

Been a bit absent so thought I would post a quick blog post with an update.

I moved back to Canterbury to start my PhD a couple of weeks ago, and have been labouring to get our flat sorted and start getting some work done.

I’ve also been rereading the Game of Thrones series, which I don’t think I’m going to review because they’re just so long, with each story arc hard to follow on top of chronology. Anyway, people already know so much about the books and the TV series that it almost feels redundant writing a review.

I’m reading A Feast for Crows at the moment, then I’m going to take a break and read something different. My next book I will write up a review for.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, learning a lot about myself on the way and trying to get back to the old me one little baby step at a time. It’s a work in progress!