Blog / 2022 / When Art Only Makes Sense with the Help of Your Community
May 7, 2022
I couldn’t see it. I mean, I got why Maus was dangerous to the American right wing. They invented modern eugenics in the early part of the 20th century, and the party hasn’t changed all that much in the last hundred years—certainly not when it comes to finding ingenious ways to prop up systemic racism. It made sense that supporters of the GQP would work to get this graphic novel censored.
What I didn’t get as I read Maus for the first time was why people thought the work was so groundbreaking.
All I saw in those pages were my grandparents and that generation of my family, many of whom played a role in the Resistance during World War II and one of whom barely survived a concentration camp. I saw what I’d already been taught on the streets of their tiny French village, where we still avoided certain people fifty years after the war ended because those people or their families had collaborated with the Nazis. When I read Maus, I saw a history that was already very much alive for me.
In fact, it wasn’t until I attended a group discussion of the book that I started to understand what makes this graphic novel so vital.
Where I saw family, my fellow book club members saw characters that clarified the war in a new way. According to them, a big part of the appeal of Maus as opposed to other narratives of World War II was the back-and-forth between present and past. The humanity of the artist-son and his survivor-dad along with their complicated relationship made the Holocaust less about unfathomable numbers and more deeply human.
Suddenly, Maus clicked into focus for me. I got the genius of the child telling the father’s story and making it his own, and I also understood that art can make you feel less alone when you appreciate it on your own, but that, when you dive into it with others, the feeling of connection is magnified in astounding ways.
And there’s no greater threat to fascism than that human connection.
It’s why Maus was banned in Russia in 2015, just two years after it had finally been translated into Russian. It’s why Republicans don’t want kids reading the book today.
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