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Neither Compelling Not Convincing
on January 15, 2007
Graphic novels are in, and graphic novels about the Holocaust, keying off of Art Spiegelman's MAUS, command our attention both for their subject matter and for the way they present it. Unfortunately, Miriam Katin's WE ARE ON OUR OWN, does not do a good job on either count.
As it happens, shortly before writing this review I spent a couple of hours in a bookshop in New York City that specializes in graphic novels and comic books. I soon realized that most of the graphics in the novels are poor at best. Interestingly, the best ones are done by Europeans who, it seems, are still trained as artists, something that I'm not sure we can say about their American counterparts. Katin's graphics are better than some, but still not especially compelling. They soon lose what visual interest they have.
Nor does the story redeem the uninteresting graphics. As it also happens, this novel is not about the Holocaust, but about the experiences of Katin and her mother, Hungarian Jews who, in 1944, purchased false identity papers and went on the run, staying in Hungary and finding shelter with two or three Hungarian peasant families. In the meantime, Katin's father was fighting with the Hungarian Army. I don't want to minimize the experiences of any refugee when I say that Katin and her mother were singularly fortunate - though occasionally suspected to be Jews, they were never turned in by their hosts; they survived the war and, at war's end, were reunited with Katin's father. They went on to stay in Hungary until 1956, when they left in the aftermath of the Hungarian Uprising.
The title reflects Katin's loss of faith in God, a loss that grew out of Katin's experiences, but the story she presents is simply not compelling. Elie Wiesel survived the concentration camps, the only one in his family to do so, yet he has made his peace with God, and he is hardly the only Holocaust survivor to do that. For far less powerful reasons, Katin wants to share with us her loss of faith, though she could as easily have found the hand of God in her and her parents' survival.
Were it not for the current demand for graphic novels and for Katin's attempt to connect her story with the Holocaust - a connection that barely exists - I'm not sure this book would ever have been published. If you must read a graphic novel that is compelling and is truly about the Holocaust, read MAUS.