From the book jacket:
Maus is the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father, his father’s terrifying story, and History itself. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), succeeds perfectly in shocking us out of any lingering sense of familiarity with the events described…
Spiegelman became the first — and still only — comics creator to win the Pulitzer Prize, which he was awarded for Maus, a two-volume graphic novel. (“Graphic novel” is a term substituted for “comic book” to make them more palatable to non-comic readers.)
Maus will be challenging for many members, but for different reasons. It’s challenging for Mac and Jennifer because they don’t like comic books, and they’re both skeptical that this one might have achieved some level of greatness. It’s challenging for Lisa because Holocaust literature gives her nightmares, seriously messes with her mind. It’s challenging for me because I’m tired of Holocaust tales to the point that I avoid them (for example, I didn’t see last year’s Oscar-nominated The Pianist because it’s a Holocaust film). It’s not that I’m an anti-semite or don’t care about what happened; it’s just that I get the point by now, and I’m tired of having it hearing it over and over again.
(There are various web resources available to enhance your reading of Maus.)
Aimee’s book selection for March is a nice complement to Joel’s selection. We’ll be reading Explaining Hitler by Ron Rosenbaum.
I’m excited to read both of these books individually, but more especially as a pair. I’ve read Maus before, and it’s excellent. I’ve only read a few pages of the introduction to Explaining Hitler so far, but it too looks great, too:
Is it possible to find in the thinly distributed, heatedly disputed facts of Hitler’s life before he came to power some single transformative moment, some dramatic trauma, or some life-changing encounter with a Svengali-like figure — a moment of metamorphosis that made Hitler Hitler? It’s a search impelled by the absence of a coherent and convincing evolutionary account of Hitler’s psychological development, one that would explain his transformation from a shy, artistically minded youth, the dispirited denizen of a Viennese homeless shelter, from the dutiful but determinedly obscure army corporal, to the figure who, not long after his return to Munich from the war, suddenly leapt onto the stage of history as a terrifyingly incendiary, spellbinding street orator. One who proceeded to take a party whose members numbered in the dozens and used it to seize power over a nation of millions; made that nation and instrument of his will, a will that convulsed the world and left forty million corpses in its wake. Missing, metaphorically then, is something that will help us explain Hitler’s baby pictures.
Those baby pictures: If I had to choose a single defining moment in the course of researching and thinking about the search for Hitler, it might have to be that evening in Paris when I witnessed — when I was on the receiving end of — French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann‘s angry tirade over Hitler’s baby pictures. When I witnessed the way the acclaimed director of Shoah, the nine-and-a-half hour Holocaust documentary, metaphorically brandished the baby pictures, brandished the scandalizing idea of the baby pictures in my face as weapons in his personal, obsessive war against the question Why. It was a moment that exposed both the passion behind the controversy over the problem of explaining Hitler — and the question at its core.
It might come as a surprise to many that the very notion of attempting to explain Hitler should seem not merely difficult in itself but dangerous, forbidden, a transgression of near-biblical proportions to some. And, in fact, Lanzmann does represent an extreme position, the end point of a continuum, what I would call third-level despair over explaining Hitler. The point at which the despair turns to outright hostility to the process of explanation itself. The point at which the search for Hitler doubles back on its searchers.
I don’t know where Rosenbaum plans to lead me as he explores Hitler’s origins. I’m curious. I often wonder if his motives might have no more explanation than a Citizen Kane-like “Rosebud” moment. Perhaps when he was a young man he suffered some sort of teasing or torment at the hands of a Jewish boy. Perhaps this small event, or one similar, planted a seed of bitterness that grew into full-fledged forest of destruction that embroiled the entire world and killed forty million people. Who knows? Rosenbaum’s book should be a fascinating read.
It seems to me that there are three great defining moments in the American cultural mythos: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. As World War II is the most recent, it plays the largest role in shaping our society. Of these three defining events, World War II is the setting we most commonly use to explain ourselves and the world around us. (The destruction of the World Trade Center certainly has the possibility to become a fourth defining moment in our mythos, and it is without question the event that dominates our current cultural mindset.)
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