A Survivor's Tale

Spiegelman, Art

(Book - 1986)
Average Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
A story of a Jewish survivor of Hitler's Europe and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father's story and history itself.
Publisher: New York :, Pantheon Books,, [1986], ©1986
ISBN: 0394747232
Branch Call Number: 940.53 Sp
Characteristics: 159 pages : chiefly illustrations ; 23 cm


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Dec 11, 2014
  • cemoreno1 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This is the ultimate survivor's tale done in the form a graphic novel. A must read!

Oct 04, 2014
  • joliebergman rated this: 5 stars out of 5.


Jun 13, 2014
  • rab1953 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

I avoided reading this book for a long time because I thought I’d heard enough stories about surviving the Holocaust. And the idea of reducing it to a story of cats and mice did not seem appealing. Probably I would not have read it had Spiegelman not been the subject of a feature show at the Vancouver Art Gallery where I was intrigued enough to pick up the book. Nevertheless, I found the story compelling at several levels.
As a personal tale of survival, the story that Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, tells his son is extraordinary – the schemes to get through the early years of Nazi-occupied Poland, the trade-offs in the concentration camp and extermination camp, the forced march and train transport, the German death camp, these are hard enough to imagine, but Vladek’s ingenuity in finding ways to gain enough advantage to survive shows his forceful and resourceful personality. The fact that his wife, Anja (whom he portrays as more feeble), survives as well, while all of their family are killed, is even more extraordinary. Discovering the details of how an individual survives under such extreme circumstances is an interesting story in itself.
On another level is the psychological impact of the story on the survivors. We know that Vladek’s strong personality is key to his survival (although we know little about how Anja survives). It’s not surprising that this takes a warped form when his son Art knows him as a demanding, bullying tyrant who scrimps and hoards even after building a secure and comfortable life in the USA. Anja commits suicide when Art is in his 20s, and Vladek seems to have an intolerable relationship with his new wife, Mala. (He seems paranoid and misreads Mala’s motives as venal, which leads one to wonder about his characterization of Anja, too.) Of course, Art finds him impossible to live with, or even visit, but he is drawn to his father out of a sense of loyalty or guilt, and wants to understand Vladek’s story. He presents the story and his reaction to it in an unadorned way as if he understands little beyond the surface, with little comment beyond his own editing of the story and his frustration in trying to capture it.
While initially I felt that the drawing style was simple and crude, the imagery does add a great deal to the story line, making it both concrete and abstract at the same time. The horrors are expressed economically, showing the details without extensive description, but they still require an act of imagination on the part of the reader to make them meaningful. The animal characters are highly arbitrary and sometimes troubling (Poles as pigs? French as frogs?). If they make it easier for some readers to approach the topic, then perhaps that is sufficient justification, but it’s hard to avoid stereotypical characterizations and a fairy-tale-like story.
And while this is an attempt to record a specific historical event, the animal story seems to take it out of any historical context. Certainly there is no attempt to describe the social and political context of Europe in the 1930s and 40s, and this is just a story of one person’s experience and how it marked him. I suppose other books have to describe the context, but in a sense this just becomes a bogey-man story of good animals and bad ones when the story is decontextualized in this way.
This is a worthy and compelling story, but it raises questions about historical story-telling which may be as valuable as the story itself.

May 22, 2014
  • starwalker rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This graphic novel is a must-read! A piece of art as well as a lesson on history, intergenerational issues, relationships and trauma.

Feb 01, 2014
  • juliewatson rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Wow & I don't really like graphic novels. But this one I picked up & couldn't put down. I can't imagine this story being as effectively delivered through any other way than this - not only is it a comic book but the characters are in animal costumes… a way of double removing the story so the Holocaust doesn't completely eat you up as you read the book?

Oct 17, 2013
  • KateHillier rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Another one for the 'essential graphic novels' list. Not only a story of the author's father's experiences as a Polish Jew in WWII, but it's also the story of the relationship between father and son. This is part one so things have gone from bad to worse and I think can only get even worse in the second part. The art is stark and black and white, the only telling details are groups being depicted by different animals (mice are Jews, cats are Nazis, Pigs are non-Jews and when Jews pretend to be non-Jews they're depicted as wearing Pig masks)

Jul 21, 2012
  • YELLOWLION rated this: 5 stars out of 5.


Jun 04, 2012
  • Ninja_Kevin rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Another great non-fiction memoir, another book you guys should try is, Persepolis by Marjane, it is also a graphic novel memoir.

May 31, 2012
  • marheaven rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

that was awesome

May 31, 2012
  • loveneverlies1 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

i love this book even if it make me sad and remembers me of ww2 but i still like the book.

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May 31, 2012
  • loveneverlies1 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

loveneverlies1 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

Red_Eagle_105 thinks this title is suitable for 99 years and over

Jul 22, 2008
  • kokosowe rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

kokosowe thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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May 31, 2012
  • loveneverlies1 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Violence: it is ww2 ppl

Jul 22, 2008
  • kokosowe rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Violence: hangings; Nazi death camps; suicide


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