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Graphic Novel Review: Maus I & II, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhod

Title: Maus, I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History
Author: Art Spiegelman
Series: Maus #1
Publisher: Pantheon Books, a division of Random House
Publication Date: 1986
Pages: 159
Format/Source: Paperback Graphic Novel/Library 

Age Group/Genre: Adult/Non-fiction, Memoir

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, succeeds perfectly in shocking us out of any lingering sense of familiarity with the events described, approaching, as it does, the unspeakable through the diminutive. It is, as the New York Times Book Review has commented, “a remarkable feat of documentary detail and novelistic vividness…an unfolding literary event.”

Moving back and forth from Poland to Rego Park, New York, Maus tells two powerful stories: the first is Spiegelman’s father’s account of how he and his wife survived Hitler’s Europe, a harrowing tale filled with countless brushes with death, improbable escapes, and the terror of confinement and betrayal. The second is the author’s tortured relationship with his aging father as they try to lead a normal life of minor arguments and passing visits against a backdrop of history too large to pacify. At all levels, this is the ultimate survivor’s tale – and that, too, of the children who somehow survive even the survivors. (Cover and synopsis from Goodreads.)

Title: Maus, II: And Here My Troubles Began
Author: Art Spiegelman
Series: Maus #2
Publisher: Pantheon Books, a division of Random House
Publication Date: 1991
Pages: 136
Format/Source: Paperback Graphic Novel/Library  

Age Group/Genre: Adult/Non-fiction, Memoir

Acclaimed as a quiet triumph and a brutally moving work of art, the first volume of Art Spieglman’s Maus introduced readers to Vladek Spiegleman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist trying 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 familiararity with the events described, approaching, as it does, the unspeakable through the diminutive.

This second volume, subtitled And Here My Troubles Began, moves us from the barracks of Auschwitz to the bungalows of the Catskills. Genuinely tragic and comic by turns, it attains a complexity of theme and a precision of thought new to comics and rare in any medium. Maus ties together two powerful stories: Vladek’s harrowing tale of survival against all odds, delineating the paradox of daily life in the death camps, and the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. At every level this is the ultimate survivor’s tale – and that too of the children who somehow survive even the survivors. (Cover and synopsis from Goodreads.)

 

Title: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Author: Marjane Satrapi, Translated by Mattias Ripa
Series: Persepolis #1-2
Publisher: Pantheon, a division of Random House
Publication Date: 2000
Pages: 160
Format/Source: Hardback Graphic Novel/Library  

Age Group/Genre: Adult/Nonfiction, Memoir

A New York Times Notable Book
A Time Magazine “Best Comix of the Year”
A San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times Best-seller

Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love. (Cover and synopsis from Goodreads.)

You may be wondering why I chose to review these three graphic novels together. Well, of course, it makes sense to review Maus I and II together, but why add Persepolis along with that? I did it for a couple reasons. First, I simply didn’t have many notes for each of these books, so I didn’t know if they would warrant a review by themselves. Second, I think that Maus and Persepolis have several things in common. They are both graphic novels drawn in a pretty similar style, and they are both nonfictional memoirs describing some horrific events in their “characters'” lives. And the most important thing, to me, about Maus and Persepolis, is that they are extremely important works that I think should be taught in schools.

Perhaps I’m posting this review a bit early, seeing as Banned Books Week is at the end of the month, and Persepolis has been banned or challenged before. I’m not sure if Maus has, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it had. There are people out there who think that stories which tell harsh realities are too much for our sensitive youth, but I disagree. Books shouldn’t be banned, first of all, but books that show us different lives other than our own, things we couldn’t even imagine happening to us, are some of the most important books for us to read. They not only make us aware of things that are outside our own little worlds, but they allow us to see from different perspectives, and to become more empathetic and sympathetic to people around us. And I think that teens in high school should be reading both Maus and Persepolis. Persepolis tells the story of a girl experiencing the Islamic Revolution first hand (a bomb blows up a building on her street) while she is a child and a preteen. And while the major “characters” (I say it in quotes because all of these are true stories) in Maus are adults, there are also some children “characters” and I think teens need to see that these things happen to children as well.

In fact, the things that happened to the children during the holocaust is what gets me every single time. I have two boys and I’m sitting here, crying right now, for all those children who lost their lives, or lost their parents. For all those parents who lost their children, who watched as these evil men did horrible things to the people they loved most in the world. Excuse me for saying so, but I just want to punch holocaust deniers. And I am NOT a violent person in any way.

I didn’t know much about the Islamic Revolution before reading Persepolis, but it meant a lot to me to know that Marjane Satrapi, the author and main “character” in the story, is only about 10 years older than me. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized these horrible things happened while I was alive, and it broke my heart to think of the things that I was doing in my own life while she was enduring all this. And things like this are still happening. We’re seeing it right now in Syria.

I haven’t even touched on any of my notes for this review, because I think everyone simply needs to read all of these stories. So please, if you enjoy graphic novels (or even if you haven’t read many) please go find a copy at your local library or book store. And if you have a child who’s a teenager, I urge you to try to get them to read these, too, and to discuss it with them. The more we read about these stories, the more we’ll understand our fellow man. And the more we understand our fellow man, the less these atrocities will repeat in the future.

My rating for Maus I, Maus II, and Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood:


5 HUGE stars each. If I could give them more, I would. I need to get my hands on Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. Now what are you waiting for? Go find a copy of each today!

Find Maus, I:  Goodreads │ Amazon │ Penguin Random House
 
Find Maus, II:  Goodreads │ Amazon │ Penguin Random House
 
Find Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood:  Goodreads │ Amazon │ Penguin Random House
 
Disclaimer:  I borrowed copies of these books from my library.  I was in no way compensated for this review.
 

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