I read one section of this book years ago, but for some reason didn’t finish. So this week I came back to it. It’s a really stunning work of non-fiction, and mostly very distressing.
Starting in the late 1970s Spiegelman began getting his father, Vladek, to tell him about his experience as a holocaust survivor. Over a period of years as Nazism and state-sponsored anti-Semitism took hold in Poland, and accelerating after the German conquest and occupation of Poland, Jews were forced into more and more extreme circumstances, culminating in mass roundups and transport to death camps. Very few survived. Vladek was one of those survivors, making it through both Auschwitz and Dachau.
Interwoven with this main story is the tense relationship between Art Spiegelman and his father, a very difficult man. Given his life experience it is understandable that he was difficult, but that didn’t make it easier for Art, and the father-son relationship is a valuable part of this story.
This is an indispensable book - one of only a few that I would want all of my grandchildren and nieces and nephews to read when they are teenagers. The generation of holocaust survivors is now over, or nearly so. Children no longer have the direct knowledge of aunts, cousins, grandparents (their own or those of friends) who did not survive the holocaust, and so maybe forgetting has become easier. But remembering has not lost its urgent importance. This book is a way of remembering.