For the second year in a row, NoveList has created a year long reading challenge to help people stretch their reading comfort zones. The challenge gives 24 prompts for readers: 12 for beginners and 12 for aficionados. My goal is to complete all 24 prompts this year. I’ll be making my way through the list and writing reviews about the books I really like. You can find the full reading challenge here.
First up is prompt #17: Read a graphic novel with black and white illustrations. I don’t typically read graphic novels so I was planning on putting this prompt off until later in the year. Then I saw some new articles about controversy over the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, Maus by Art Spiegelman. It was removed from the 8th grade curriculum by a Tennessee school board for its “unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.” There is nothing I love more than challenged books, so I knew I needed to read it.
Maus follows the strained relationship between author Art Spiegelman and his aging father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor. The novel begins in 1978 with a visit between Art and Vladek. It moves between two timelines, intertwining their visits in present day with Vladek’s stories of his life during the Holocaust. We follow Vladek all the way through the war: from his time as a POW, his time in a ghetto, his multiple hiding spots in between, and finally to his time in Auschwitz and Dachau. He tells of the people and family members he met and lost along the way, and the horrors he faced during those six years. The novel ends after Vladek tells the story of his return to his hometown at the end of the war and his reunion with his wife Anya, Art’s mother. The last panel is an image of Anya’s and Vladek’s tombstone. Anya died by suicide in 1968 and Vladek of congestive heart failure in 1982 before the book was completed.
This book was intense, and it took me a while to get through it. I picked it up and read the first part in one sitting. I usually read books in about 2-4 days, but I had to let this one sit for about a week before I could continue. Maus does not gloss over gruesome details of the Holocaust. Vladek tells stories about murder, violence, torture, starvation, medical experimentation, sickness, and suicide. Maus is one of the best books I’ve read in my adult life. It was difficult, but it was a necessary reminder of a terrible part of the world’s history. Spiegelman said it best, “This is disturbing imagery, but you know what? It’s disturbing history.” I highly recommend this book, even if you’ve read other Holocaust stories in the past. The graphic novel format makes the amazing storytelling that much more impactful.