Family Ties

I’ve always been a compulsive shopper. While this is usually just dangerous for my bank account, sometimes this quick decision-making benefits me. With the wonders of technology, this has become almost too easy. But I have a confession to make. While I enjoy every class I attend at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, alas, there are moments of frayed attention span. This occurred last week while we were discussing Maus, the graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. This is one of the most striking narratives I have read in quite some time (and that’s saying a lot coming from a first year master’s student) and I was lost in my own head of thoughts and analysis, not quite sure how to piece it all together. Then I realized that we only read part one of the story. Could it be!? Could I have really stopped half way and been satisfied? Could I speak eloquently and knowledgably about the complex themes Spiegelman was trying to convey with only half a story to go on? Two clicks and free shipping on Amazon led me to hold Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began the very next day.

While I had ingested the first Maus in one sitting, I thought it would be nearly impossible to do that again. However, the second portion of the story sucked me much further in than first. Maus II details the time the narrator’s father spends in Auschwitz, or Mauschwitz as it is cleverly coined and his survival of this terrible place. While I was expecting to feel a load of heaviness and had prepared myself to read about atrocities in detail (accompanied by illustrations), I found a connection in Spiegelman’s writing. This portion explores the emotions both father and son experience towards one another, and the complexity of the survivor mentality that affected the generations still with us. Spiegelman is very candid about the guilt of not having lived what his parents lived. This pain is very real to me and recognizes the vast differences that build between generations, especially those with very different and often tramatic experiences. His effort to understand not only his father’s life experience, but grapple with his unusual mannerisms as a direct link to this difficult experience is so candid and welcoming. This is a pillar of what makes this narrative so accessible.

I think this may be personal. While I have no direct connection to the Holocaust through friends or family, I can relate to a family member scared by their life experience. My Nana, a child of the Great Depression, saves everything. I have washed plastic bags, reused paper towels, and seen her use every part of a chicken. Every cabinet is bursting at the seams with food, clothing, or a general hoard of mysterious items. I have grown up watching these unusual choices and cutting coupons with her every Sunday morning. I have also heard how much I am like her since my young brain could hold my own memories. Her buying and hoarding has always seemed unrealistic and frivolous, but Maus helped me realize that this is a fear-based response to a traumatic life experience at a very young age. Maus II explores the misunderstanding between two generations, and Spiegelman’s attempt to understand where his father’s often annoying mannerisms come from helped me think about someone I don’t quite always understand. This is why I found this story so powerful. You don’t always understand a person completely until you hear their story. Even if they are family. I happen to come from a family of shoppers.


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