I can’t really say anything about this book that wasn’t better said in the book jacket, so I’ll just share some of my own thoughts.
I really grew to like Vladek (the author’s father) over the course of the book. It was interesting that the author used his speech patterns and mannerisms more or less verbatum, because they’re a little difficult to follow at times, like “these things we learned only much later”. But once you get used to reading them in the voice of a stereotypical New York Jew, they become much easier to follow.
In fact, Vladek fits the stereotype in numerous other ways (which are acknowledged by the author). For example, he’s an extreme penny-pincher, to the point that “Since gas is included in the rent, he leaves a burner lit all day to save on matches.” He was certainly frugal before the war, but he learned to save resources to the extreme in order to survive the ghettos, and later Auschwitz itself. If he hadn’t been such a tightwad, it’s quite possible that he wouldn’t have survived at all. His pure resourcefulness and drive to survive are amazing, and I doubt that I would’ve been able to go through everything he did.
At the core of this story are a pair of tragedies that cast their pall over everything, even the more lighthearted moments, which you learn about early in the book: that Vladek’s wife survived Auschwitz only to kill herself in America years later, and that Vladek’s first son died in the ghettos, long before the author was even born.
The visits between Art and Vladek that provide the framework for the long, sad history of the war provide some welcome levity to an otherwise extremely dark story. Art is constantly irritated by Vladek’s peculiarities and frugality, such as when he throws away Art’s jacket without telling him. Much of the present-day story is about Art coming to grips with his father and how he feels about him, and dealing with Vladek’s declining health. It’s a story that’s just as gripping as the story of the war being told.
Despite the horrors that occur on the pages of this book, it’s not depressing – at least, not as depressing as I thought it would be. There’s plenty here to keep the story engaging and amusing, and Vladek seems able to make the most out of any situation, even in the face of imminent death.
After I finished reading the book, I noticed that there was a map on the back that showed where Vladek’s New York house was located, including a drawing of the house itself. I got the urge to look it up on Google Maps, and sure enough, it’s still there. I’m not sure why I wanted to see it, but I suppose it makes the story that much more real to me.
I also love how the characters are portrayed as different types of animals to show their different nationalities and ethnicities. Jews are drawn as mice, Germans are cats, Americans are dogs, Poles are pigs, the French are (of course) frogs, Swedes are reindeer, and Brits are fish(!). I was hoping I’d see some Russians (I assumed they would be bears) but they never appeared.
This post was written by Bevans