Monday, October 15, 2007

Catching up with Yann Martel, Part 3

Today's recommended read for our Prime Minister is Le Petit Prince. In French. Yann Martel's letter to the PM about this book is also in French. In Canada, at least, this could be construed as a bit of a political statement. We are a bilingual country after all, and PM Harper has not shown what anyone would consider great warmth toward Quebec or official bilingualism. (However, when talking about PM Harper, I don't think he's been to known to show warmth to anyone or anything.) The good news is, I've read this one. Not in French, but still.

The next to last Martel pick for our Prime Minister to read, while hardly what I would consider short, is a wonderful classic, one which I've read more than once! He chose To Kill a Mockingbird, the first book I ever stayed up all night reading. I remember looking up at the end and seeing the sunrise - an amazing memory which is forever tied in to my experience of the book.

With this pick I'm caught up, finally, with his reading list. The last two choices were a play, Strindberg's Miss Julie and a graphic novel, Art Spiegelman's Maus. Both are genres I rarely read, so it was a stretch for me. And perhaps that explains a few of my difficulties. I found Miss Julie an unpleasant and annoying read. In the essays I've read on it, it seems to be important for its stylistic innovations, and its approach to the class structures in Sweden at the time. I just found it irritating, especially the conclusion that the only way out of disgrace for Julie is suicide. I know that she is supposed to represent the downfall of aristocratic excess and self-absorption, but I disliked the 'common' character of Jean so much that I would prefer the aristos to win out in this case! Knowing also that Strindberg was a notorious misogynist makes it difficult to read this only symbolically. I didn't enjoy this one but am interested enough to look into the critical work on it a little more.

As for Maus, I always knew this was a classic of its genre, but the only graphic novels I've read previously are Chester Brown's Louis Riel and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. This is not an area I read much in. I was really impressed by Maus. It takes the always difficult subject of the Holocaust and presents it in an original and honest manner. The character of his father is drawn without sentiment or easy clich├ęs and the story is the more moving for it. Showing his own difficulties approaching the subject, as well as his own prickly relationship with his father, help the story along. I have to agree with the Pulitzer committee, who gave him a special award in 1992; this is an original and outstandingly successful presentation of a very problematic subject. I am very glad I finally read it.

8 comments:

  1. I don't read many graphic novels either. I've always meant to read Maus. Your description of it will very likely get me to pick it up next time I see it at the bookstore or library.

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  2. Do you know that there is a second volume of 'Maus'? I was introduced to both by Philip Pullman of 'His Dark Materials' fame who is a graphic novel fanatic. We both used them with our students with great success. I think they enjoyed being 'allowed' to work with illustrations.

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  3. Ann - yes, I read both (but just now realized I have the image of Vol.1 posted here). It's great - I can imagine it would work well with students.

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  4. I loved both Maus books -- Spiegelman is pretty amazing.

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  5. Your To Kill A Mockingbird memory is quite beautiful. I have a memory of spending a day by myself on a secluded beach finishing Robinson Crusoe. It's nice when books tie in with the surroundings!

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  6. Considering the ending of Mockingbird I can well imagine the poignancy of seeing that sunrise. Great memory!

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  7. Yes, the confluence of a story and your own surroundings can be wonderful at times. I love the fact that when I read "Mockingbird" it was so fitting a conclusion!

    Of course when you're reading something in a totally unsuitable environment the contrast can be interesting as well.

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  8. I think it's intriguing the way that graphic novels are gradually being accepted into the mainstream. My youngest son had to read Persepolis (another graphic novel) as the One-Book requirement for his freshman year at college. Maus was, of course, one of the reasons why the acceptance has become so broad.

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