International Holocaust Remembrance Day

mausMaus
Art Spiegelman
Graphic Novel
295 pages
Published 1996

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day set aside to remember the six million Jews that died in the genocide of World War 2. This is an especially important day given the things that have been taking place in America over the past year. I partially read Hitlerland a few months ago, about Americans living in Germany when the war broke out, and how they reacted to the events happening around them, and was horrified at how closely the early events mirrored what is happening now with Trump. I also read the Diary of Anne Frank in high school, as so many other students did.

What I read this year was the Complete Maus. Maus is a graphic novel about the author’s father’s experience in the concentration camps. In the novel Jews are mice, Poles are pigs, and Germans are cats. (Humans are dogs and French are frogs.) The art is stark, but it fits the subject matter. It’s almost entirely black and white, with the exception of a few cover pages. The time period jumps back and forth a little. Most of it is set during the war, with the father, Vladek, narrating what’s going on. The rest of it is in modern time, sometimes with the author interviewing his father, sometimes just the author dealing with his elderly father’s eccentricities. maus-swastika

While the graphic novel doesn’t shy away from the violence and sheer number of people dying, it’s not graphic about it. There’s no gore. I feel like this would be a good first book for learning about the Holocaust, though depending on age, kids might need help with the vocabulary.

It’s a fairly fast read for an adult. I think the animals were a really well done metaphor – Vladek, a mouse, often has a pig mask on as he masquerades as a Polish non-Jew. I get most of the animal metaphors – Germans as cats while the Jews are mice, French are frogs, and Americans are friendly dogs. I had to ask Google why Poles were pigs – apparently they were represented as pigs in Nazi propaganda. There’s also an element of Poles being non-kosher, and, also, a certain amount of racism. Whether that racism is Art’s or Vladek’s is unclear, but ultimately Art chose to represent them with pigs, so. That problematic factor aside, this was a really good piece of art.

From the cover of Maus:

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.

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Book Review: The Goddess Companion

goddesscompThe Goddess Companion: Daily Meditations on the Feminine Spirit
by Patricia Monaghan
400 pages
Published 1999
Pagan/Spirituality

This is one of the first pagan books I bought myself, and I absolutely love it. It has an entry for every day of the year, so you can read it daily as a meditation, or open it when you feel you need guidance.

An example of a day:

February 16

The flood receded, leaving swamps
where life emerged anew like seeds
sprouting in a mother’s womb.
It was just like spring, when peasants
overturn the soil to find a world
of creatures there, as though the earth
itself crept and wriggled and was alive.
Life begins in heat and water,
those apparent opposites that stir
creation. Thus the sun, rising on
the flooded earth, brought forth new life.
– Ovid, Metamorphoses
In the myths of many cultures, the earth is destroyed – often by a flood – and then reborn, re-made. So it was in Greek and Roman mythology, which told of a great flood that only the woman Pyrrha and her mate Deucalion survived. Told by an oracle that she would bear children from “the bones of her mother,” Pyrrha figured out that her mother being the earth, the bones would mean the rock skeleton of the planet. Throwing stones behind herself, Pyrrha produced an entire new race of humans to repopulate the earth.

After the destructive flood, the earth replenished itself anew. Such myths capture the special freshness of spring, when all seems reborn. In our own lives, too, we will find times when an order is overturned – a job or love lost, a home transformed – but new order emerges from the ruin. Trusting in such rebirth is difficult, but every spring reminds us that renewal is an inevitable part of life.

Each day in the book brings a quote from ancient poetry or song or religious text about some aspect of the goddess. Some days it’s Horace or Homer, some days it’s a Lithuanian Folk song, or an Indian prayer to Kali. I love how it draws from such widely different traditions to show different faces of the goddess.

It’s quite seasonal; it doesn’t have days of the week, but it does go by dates, so you’ll find things about spring in February, March, and April; entries about depression and the dark of winter in December and January; entries about death and ancestors in October.

I highly recommend this book; it is well-written, insightful, and well-researched. This is a book I crack open not-quite-daily, but at least once a week, and whenever I need a goddess fix. I used to have quotes from this book written out on paper and posted all over my house. I did not realize the author had written so many other books – she has about 20 listed on her Wikipedia page! I only own The Goddess Companion and The Goddess Path, but I think I’ll be looking up more of her work. Sadly, she died about a year ago, but she left behind a wonderful body of work. If you’re interested in reading about the divine feminine, this book is a great place to start.