Maus -
A Survivor's Tale
by Art Spiegelman

a kate west recommendation

Art Spiegelman's 1992 Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel "Maus" covers his father Vladek's tragic history during the Holocaust. It's uniqueness lies not only in the fact that the Third Reich is depicted in cartoons, but also that everyone is represented as animals. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, the Americans are dogs, the French are frogs, the Swedes are reindeer, the British are fish and Gypsies are exotic moths. This device classifies everyone into a highly specific group, just as the Nazis saw them.

Vladek Spiegelman and his wife Anja lived in Poland with their son Richieu. When the Nazis began persecuting people, they sent their child to live with his Aunt Tosha in another Polish ghetto they deemed safer. Unfortunately, she did not feel the same way and poisoned herself and all of her charges, including poor Richieu. Art was born in New York and suffered from living up to the image of a dead brother, even to the point of staying in a mental hospital. When he was released, his mother committed suicide and his father remarried another Holocaust survivor, Mala. "Maus" was the perfect way to deal with these travesties, by simultaneously removing and retaining the human element. The depiction of animals meant they weren't like us, but the action and dialogue said otherwise.

It is a brilliantly poignant portrayal of World War II from the Jewish perspective and how it affects the survivors, even worlds away. Art's father was prejudiced against blacks, even though he was a victim of anti-semitism. Art married Fran├žoise Mouly, a French artist, co-founding Raw Magazine with her (she is a mouse with a French scarf in the cartoon). Never one to back down from a fight, just like his father, Spiegelman spoke out about the recent war on Iraq and greatly lamented September 11 (see below). Vladek's new wife, Mala, suffers from his stubbornness and frugality, left over from the War. The fact that Vladek survived Auschwitz without going completely mad is testament to this resiliency. But he drives Art crazy. The depictions of both ordinary and camp life are truly extraordinarily detailed and the images will stay with you forever. Spiegelman's cutting humor makes it all the more real and accessible, and that much more frightening.

It's an excellent addition to any other historically acclaimed book on the subject. It also raises graphic novelization to a new level. Be sure to read both volumes:

Volume I: My Father Bleeds History
Volume II: And Here Comes Trouble Began

(Spiegelman's New Yorker cover after the September 11 attacks,
right before he resigned in protest of media hypocrisy.)

The Works:

Maus I & II 2 Volumes Boxed Set Read more!

Life and Online Dating

a kate west reflection

You never know who's going to end up together. It's not something you have any business sorting out, either. Chemistry and timing play a part, as well as a general outlook on life, love and dating. Life is unexpected. And love can change. Who knew?

The year 2001 changed my entire life, in so many ways. September 11 happened and then the whole world changed, so what did my small life have to do with anything? Well, I still had to live it, when all was said and done. After our national shock, we all had to get back to living our lives. Comedians started being funny again and Hollywood celebrities came out of hiding. And I started online dating. And perceptions and perspectives got small again.

On to major trivialities. Can I work out my own insecurities, while still caring about the state of the planet? Like I said, I had to start living my life again and if the whole country could do it, so could I. It all ties in - for me, at least. O.K. so forgive me. Please. Moment of self-indulgence. But who knows, maybe we'll all learn something together.

Here's the thing about online dating. Profiles don't match. Guys, it's not your fault - I don't match my profile either. Everything on there is true, but you're right this moment building a fantasy in your head, which I just can't live up to - no one can. And I'm doing the same to you. Cyber reality isn't reality at all - it's what we want to have happen and then we're disappointed when it doesn't come true. So I've given up online dating. I know, I know, a lot of you married people you met online, but it's pretty unusual to meet someone perfect from a photo gallery of strangers. What are the odds? And if you've been out of circulation, for oh, say decades, the rules may have changed and it's kind of like starting out all over again. But straight from high school. And who wants to do that? Ugh. Better for real friendships to develop into something else. But who has the time for that in this day and age?

There must be a better way. So we join fun organizations and fitness clubs and try to stick with people we have something in common with. Maybe. The old fashioned way. It may take a longer, but it's a lot less stressful. And all of those how-to dating books don't really help either. It either happens or it doesn't. When we try to force nature, it backfires. Hence, global warming. And bad dates.

So back to the drawing board! And better perceptions and perspectives. And a more serious version of life. Like joining the Peace Corps. Anything to help others and get out of your own head at the same time. Because without a peaceful world, how can we find happiness with each other?

p.s. Firemen are still the best superheroes, in my book (and totally datable). We haven't forgotten you. Believe me. Peace.

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