viernes, 21 de junio de 2013

Maus - Art Spiegelman

Maus is a graphic novel. Don't go away thinking it's just a comic. I mean, it is a comic -and I don't want to have the debate about comics being literature, of course they are-, but a really good one. If you like that sort of things, it is the only one to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. So, yes, it stands out, both among comics and other kinds of literature.

So what is it about? It's the biography of Vladek Spiegelman, the author's father, from the author's point of view. What is so special about Vladek is that he was a Polish Jew who survived Nazi concentration camps. As I've stated before, I like to learn about WWII and the Holocaust, so I've always known I'd read Maus at some point. This is The Complete Maus, which consists of the two volumes previously published, My Father Bleeds History and And Here My Troubles Began.

While I don't know of any other comic dealing with the Holocaust (please, tell me if you do), Art Spiegelman doesn't stop there and portrays Jews as mice and Nazi as cats. This has a curious effect of distancing the reader from the emotional content of the story for a while, until the horrors depicted are so incredible that no barrier could keep anyone from feeling. But it is in no way emotionally manipulative, as other Holocaust stories are. Partly because Art states things as they were without giving his opinion on them, and partly because this is not fiction, in my opinion. 

Honestly, I can't properly think about this book, but I do feel strongly about it. I've read many Holocaust stories. The Complete Maus is among the best of them, if not the very best. The comic form makes it more poignant. Art is able to show something terrible in only a couple of frames. I'm thinking about the episode where the Jews are summoned to the stadium and Vladek's father crosses the fence (I'm trying to avoid spoilers) or about the details of the gas chambers. Chills went up my spine and I felt sad or horrified, and had to pause for a while.

And I liked Art's honesty about it all, writing about his guilt of having led an easier life than his parents. Vladek is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, as it is perfectly illustrated when they meet the 'shvartser', but he is endearing and his endless resources are admirable. If there's any imperfection, is because I was so invested in the characters I'd loved to know more about them. For instance, I would have liked knowing what happened to Anja while she was alone in Auschwitz-Birkenau and later, in Dachau. Why she committed suicide. How Vladek met Mala again, what made him marry her. I became really engrossed in the story while reading this book. It was even better than I had anticipated.

Verdict: 5/5 - loved it. Buy this, read it and keep it for ever.

lunes, 17 de junio de 2013

The Hobbit

I haven't read The Hobbit in ages, but I remember loving it in my teenage years. Much more than Lord of the Rings, because it wasn't as long-winded and verbose. Obviously, I watched the 2012 film (An Unexpected Journey) and thought it was a great adaptation of a beloved book. It really takes advantage of the 3D technology and the result is visually stunning. The casting was perfect and I was left wanting more - especially of Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays The Necromancer and voices Smaug. No worries! The trailer for The Desolation of Smaug is out!

It looks promising!

viernes, 14 de junio de 2013

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell

Summary (from the back cover):

In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage-clothing shop and sidestepping her married boyfriend’s attempts at commitment, Iris Lockhart receives a stunning phone call: Her great-aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, is being released from Cauldstone Hospital—where she has been locked away for more than sixty-one years.

A gothic, intricate tale of family secrets, lost lives, and the freedom brought by truth, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox will haunt you long past its final page.

I hadn't read a book so well-written and gripping for such a long time. While The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox isn't perfect, it is indeed amazing.

Maggie O'Farrell writes in the vein of many of my favorite writers, and she masters a subtle prose that kept reminding me of Muriel Spark. It feels refreshing not to be told everything that happens, not to be held by the hand and guided carefully through the story, but to witness the plot unravel by itself. Actually, scratch that. To witness the different plot lines unravel and become one and the same, to be unable to stop the train-wreck, which you know from early on is going to finally happen. It was really difficult to make myself stop reading.

Maggie O'Farrell doesn't shy away from thorny issues and weaves a compelling story (thriller? mystery? what is this exactly?) around them. She questions sanity and madness, specially regarding the different views on 'women madness' over time. She also questions love and jealousy and family bonds. And keeps from offering easy answers.

So go read this book now. It is that good.

Verdict: 5/5 - loved it

lunes, 10 de junio de 2013

In my Mailbox #1

One of my greatest pleasures is arriving home to find a new book in my mailbox. Even more if it comes from Persephone BooksIt's almost like Christmas! In their own words, Persephone Books reprints fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly women) writers. That tagline alone was enough to make me interested and it is now easily my favorite publisher. (You know you are a booknerd when you say you have a favorite publisher. I am aware that I might have a problem.)

The books they have chosen are really well-written and still relevant, but most of them have been forgotten after their publication or never received enough attention in the first place. And that is sad, because they are amazing stories, especially if you are like me and can't resist a good WWII home front book.

On a more superficial note, they are also beautiful to look at. And who doesn't love a pretty bookshelf? All of them have plain grey jackets, pretty endpapers and a matching bookmark. The endpapers are carefully chosen to match the contents of the book - exploring the origin of the fabric that inspired the endpaper is often a story in itself.