Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History Book Review

It is easy to denounce comic books or graphic novels as a form of childish entertainment or stories that are needlessly sexual or violent. But they can be a way to reach an audience who does not read traditional literature.

Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, was published back in 1986. Written by Art Spiegelman, it is his parent’s story of survival during the Holocaust told in graphic novel form. Both the victims and perpetrators are represented by animals. The Jews are mice and the Nazis are cats. The narrative is as follows: The protagonist goes to visit his father. Their relationship, up to this point, has not been easy. The conversation turns to his parent’s experience during the war. Over the course of the book, his father tells his story. It starts off as an ordinary life, goes through tribulations that would break many, and ends with hope.

After reading this book, I now understand why some people want to ban it. Unlike other books on this subject, it is brutal in a way that words alone cannot convey. The images force the reader to confront the truth of this time in history and the savagery that was forced upon both the living and the dead.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.


Cyrano Movie Review

We all want to be loved for who we are. But that is not always easy when we believe that we are unworthy of the one(s) we love.

The new movie, Cyrano, is a musical adaptation of the Edmond Rostand play Cyrano de BergeracPeter Dinklage plays the title character. Cyrano is charming, a master swordsman/soldier and wordsmith, and in love with Roxanne (Haley Bennett). Without a penny to her name, Roxanne (like many women living in the pre-modern era), knows that she must marry. But she will only marry for love. That love comes in the form of Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.).

Unable to tell her how he feels due to his insecurities, Cyrano uses Christian for his conventionally handsome looks to express what he cannot say in person. Christian is equally tongue-tied, believing that his words are not enough to convey his own passion for her. They are joined by a third man, De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), a nobleman who covets Roxanne for her beauty.

As this love triangle becomes more complicated, it becomes obvious that both Cyrano and Christian will have to come clean. What is unknown is how Roxanne will react and how the ripple effect of the lie change the course of their lives?

Directed by Joe Wright ( the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, etc) and written by Erica Schmidt (the significant others of Bennett and Dinklage respectively), this film is an unexpected treat. I’m not usually a fan of movie musicals, but this one is worth watching.

With only one female lead character, it would be easy to box Roxanne into a corner. But she is so strong and so determined to make her own choices (as limited as they are), that it is easy to forget that her life is dictated by the men around her.

The heart of this narrative is the inability to love ourselves and be open to the people that are important to us. It’s why I believe we can all relate to Cyrano. Whether we are of short stature, have an unusually long nose, or another feature that we dislike, we all want to be loved for our authentic selves. It is just a matter of taking that leap and trusting that we will land on our feet.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. If I may be so bold, I would say that Cyrano will be on quite a few “best of” lists come the end of the year.

Cyrano is presently in theaters.

Mansfield Park Character Review: Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the novel Mansfield Park. Read at your own risk if you have not read the book or watched any of the adaptations. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

One of the things I have wrestled with as I have gotten older is that my parents are not perfect. When we are young, we may be led to believe otherwise. The truth is that they are just as human as any of us. In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price‘s surrogate parents are her aunt and uncle, Lady Bertram and Sir Thomas Bertram. Neither of them has a healthy relationship with their children.

Though Sir Thomas has provided for children and his niece in the material and financial sense, there is no emotional connection with the younger generation. Often away on business, he is displeased that his eldest son, Thomas, is more interested in spending time with his friends than focusing on his responsibilities. Though there are moments of warmth (i.e. giving his eldest daughter, Maria an out on what would be a loveless marriage), he is not the cuddly paternal type. When Fanny turns down Henry Crawford‘s marriage proposal, Sir Thomas is quick to remind her about her place in his home and the society that they live in.

His wife prefers the companionship of her dog to her offspring. Though she depends on Fanny as one would rely on an assistant or an aide, she is equally lacking in expected maternal nature. While most mothers would busy themselves in their brood’s daily activities, Lady Bertram is content to let her husband and eldest sister, Mrs. Norris take the lead. Preferring the comforts of home, she has become a homebody, forcing Fanny to stay home as well.

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To sum it up: At a certain point in our lives, we can no longer blame our actions on what did or did not happen when we were young. That does not mean, however, that the experiences of our childhood remain separate from who we become as adults. In their own unique ways, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram are emotionally distant from their kids, opening the door to decisions that are partially due to a difficult home life.

Which is why they are memorable characters.

This will be my last Mansfield Park character review post. Come back next week to discover which characters will be writing about next.

The Ukrainian Invasion is a Both a Premonition and a Warning

It’s easy to take democracy for granted. It is only when it is on the brink of destruction that we remember how fragile and important it is.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday morning. The estimated number of casualties as of Thursday night was 137. While the rest of the world sanctions, condemns, and protests the actions of the Russian military, Putin acts as if he has every right to take over a sovereign nation.

In a previous post about this topic, I compared the invasion to when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. A more appropriate comparison is the German takeover of Poland in 1939. This event, as we all know, was the opening salvo of the European theater of World War II.

As both a Jew and an American whose family left Eastern Europe more than a century ago, I am scared and horrified on two points. The first is that Putin claims that he needs to “de-Nazify” Ukraine. Putting aside (momentarily) the continued misuse of the Holocaust-related language and imagery, he ignores the known fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is also a member of the Jewish faith. Anyone with half a brain can easily see through what is nothing more than a flimsy excuse.

Among the many pieces of video that have been released, the one I find most heartbreaking is the man saying goodbye to his wife and daughter as he prepares to fight for his country. I don’t know about anyone else, but seeing this exchange was nothing short of gutwrenching.

I am equally horrified that several prominent members of the American right (i.e. Republicans) are loudly and proudly flying their pro-Putin flag. What was that about America First? More like Russia First.

I believe that this is a turning point in world history that cannot be ignored. We have two choices. We can pull a Neville Chamberlain and let Putin steamroll over Europe. Or, we can fight back and ensure that our children live in a world in which democracy is respected and protected.

Throwback Thursday: George Lopez (2002-2007)

The framework of the generic family sitcom has been around for seventy years. After almost a century of watching these programs, there has to be a way to both color within the lines and not create an exact copy of what has been on the air previously.

George Lopez was on the air from 2002-2007. The show stars the eponymous comedian George Lopez as a husband, father, and employee of a Los Angeles manufacturing plant. Married to Angie (Constance Marie) for many years, they are doing the always classic and never easy work/life balance dance. George’s mother Benny (Belita Moreno) is a constant presence in their home, which is problematic due to her self-centered nature.

I’ve watched a couple of episodes and it’s your basic paint-by-numbers family sitcom. The only difference is that the main characters are all Latinx and that their son has autism. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important that the America we see on the streets is reflected on both the big and small screens. There was obviously enough of an audience to keep it on the schedule for five seasons. But I found this show to be nothing special.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

Throwback Thursday: Young Sheldon (2017-Present)

To know someone, it helps to know who they were as a child and the experiences of their early years.

Young Sheldon (2017-Present) is the prequel to The Big Bang Theory. The show stars Ian Armitage as the young Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons as an adult). Though he is educationally smarter than other kids his age, he lacks the social skills that would allow him to easily spend time with his peers.

I’ve sat through at least one episode of this program. After thirty minutes, I knew that I would never watch it again. After five years, there is obviously enough of an audience to keep it on the air. But I am not among them. I find Sheldon to be obnoxious and a turnoff.

Do I recommend it? No.

The Endgame Review

The “cat and mouse game” narrative is a potent one. When done right, the story sends the audience on a ride that keeps us hanging on to the very end.

The new NBC series, The Endgame premiered last night. Criminal mastermind Elena Federova (Morena Baccarin) has just been caught by the US government. While Elena is in custody, a series of bank heists happen simultaneously across New York City. The only one who can stop her is FBI agent Val Fitzgerald (Ryan Michelle Bathe). Val is both dedicated to her job and not willing to cut corners in order to close cases.

I like the premise and I like the fact that both the protagonist and antagonist are female. Each is formidable in her own right.

I can’t say that based on the pilot, I am head over heels in love with this series. There is a lot of potential for a long-running program, but I don’t know if it will be realized. I will probably watch upcoming episodes, but only time will tell if I continue with the full season.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

The Endgame airs on NBC on Monday night at 10PM.

Both/And: A Life in Many World Book Review

It’s easy to think that we know someone famous based on the headlines and the soundbites coming from the press. The reality is that we don’t know them at all.

Huma Abedin‘s memoir, Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds, was published last November. Born to Muslim Pakistani and Indian immigrants in Michigan, she spent her formative years in Saudi Arabia. Taking a job with the Clinton administration in the late 1990s, she has worked for Hillary Clinton for more than two decades. She is also known for her troubled marriage to Anthony Weiner, a politician whose fall from grace can only be described as brutal.

The reader is taken on a journey across the world and across the spectrum of local, national, and international politics over the last few decades. Abedin’s tale is that a woman who has broken boundaries, redefines what it is to be American, and that of a survivor who has thrived in spite of the dark times in her life.

This book is so good. Abedin leaves nothing off the table, telling her story in an emotionally honest and open manner. Her narrative is nothing short of inspirational.

The part of the book that was the most challenging for me as a reader was the scandal that broke up her marriage and opened the door to he who shall not be named. It is akin to a rollercoaster that had no off switch. Given what was being thrown at her, she could have easily taken to her bed and soothed her grief with food or alcohol. Instead, she took it one day at a time and got through it with her head held high and her courage intact.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

From Russia With News: The Ukrainian Invasion and Kamila Valieva

When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, 1989, it was supposed to mark an era of peace and cooperation. Thirty-plus years later, that promise is nothing but empty words.

For the last few weeks, Vladimir Putin has been threatening to invade Ukraine. He also blamed the United States for opening the door to war and demanded that NATO not extend an invite to Ukraine to join this international organization. Thankfully, NATO did not give in.

Putin is not dumb, by any stretch of the imagination. He knows what he wants. He also knows the obstacles that stand in his way. If the Ukrainian government joins NATO, his bully pulpit is diminished considerably. Even if the invitation never comes, the support by the US, the rest of Europe, and NATO might be enough to keep his ambitions at bay.

The question is now, will this turn into the beginning of World War III, or is the rest of the world strong enough to stop Putin? The history nerd in me can’t help but see the similarities of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

While this is happening, a young woman’s life has been forever altered. Kamila Valieva was a favorite among the crowd at the recently concluded 2022 Olympics in Beijing. The expectation that she would return home with a gold medal seemed to be set in stone. During routine testing for banned substances, one was found in her system. This opened the door to questions of cheating and coming home without the highly anticipated first-place status.

My heart breaks for this kid. Getting to this level of competition requires more than talent. The drive that is needed to get to the Olympics is one that many would back away from. I don’t blame her, I blame the adults who were willing to cut corners to win, even if it meant sacrificing their star athlete in the process.

When this news broke, Sha’Carri Richardson spoke out about the obvious racial double standard. While she is 100% correct, what I think we have to remember is that Ms. Richardson is an adult. Ms. Valieva is a minor. It is possible that she may have been coerced or lied to about the reason for taking it.

I was in elementary school when the Berlin Wall fell. I can only hope that today’s elementary school kids will know a world of peace. But it looks like we may going to war, once again.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses Review

When we talk about the Holocaust, we forget that Jews were not the only ones targeted for persecution and murder. Among the other undesirables were people with disabilities or severe illness.

The new Netflix short, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, follows Peter (Knox Gibson), a young man who was born without one of his limbs. When Nazi officers start banging down the door, Peter has two choices. He can wait for the inevitable, or run with everything that is within him.

Though this movie is less than 15 minutes, it packs a punch that is not forgotten anytime soon. The courage that this boy has rivals many adults who are twice or three times his age. I was equally rooting and grieving for him, knowing that Peter was being denied the opportunity of being a child, simply because of a twist of fate.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is available for streaming on Netflix.

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