GREAT BOOKS 13: Art Spiegelman's Maus, with Hillary Chute
Art Spiegelman's Maus is the story of an American cartoonist's efforts to uncover and record his father's story of survival of the Holocaust. It is also a cartoon, where the Jews are mice, the Nazis cats, the Poles dogs, and the French, well, you'll have to read it.
It's a story of survival and also a story of silences, and how the next generation can find and make sense of stories that seem to defy representation in their sheer horror. It's also a triumph in story-telling and a serious meditation on good and evil; on the nature of Romantic; familiar and filial love; on America's legacy of absorbing immigrants who arrive with often unspeakable traumas in a past that finds little resonance in a culture obsessed with entertainment and fast news.
Maus upended the conventions of representing the Holocaust and historical trauma for a far greater audience than the American Jewish communities. It broke several rules: it spoke about past suffering to outsiders, it used low-culture to represent catastrophes, and it refused to turn the catastrophe of the Holocaust into a redemptive tale.
It charted a way for others to take possession of their parents' stories without betraying them but also without letting them overwhelm the next generation, analogous to Alex Haley's magisterial Roots. I spoke with Hillary Chute, a scholar of cartoons and American literature and Distinguished Professor of English and Art + Design at Northeastern University.