"In the Shadow of No Towers"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie OCT 5, 2004)
I was deeply moved by Art Spiegelman's In The Shadow Of No Towers before I even opened the book. As a Manhattanite, the World Trade Center's twin towers used to be my New York City lodestone. With my lousy sense of direction, I always knew where I was by marking my location in relation to the two buildings, soaring skyward, so visible above everything else. Even now, three years after 9/11, I sometimes forget and look towards the southwest, expecting to see the buildings' lights. For days, weeks, months after September 11, I saw, in my minds eye, almost exactly the same image portrayed on the cover of In The Shadow Of No Towers - darkest black shadows of the two landmarks against a night sky - emptiness during the daylight. There is no more eloquent description to mark absence, to recall violence and infamy, than the cover picture of these two shadows.
Mr. Spiegelman is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Maus, where he used the medium of comic strips to portray the Holocaust, his parents' experience as survivors of Auschwitz, and his own experience as a child of Holocaust victims. Ironically, his parents taught him at an early age to "always keep my bags packed." He writes in the book's Introduction, an extraordinary essay, "I tend to be easily unhinged. Minor mishaps - a clogged drain, running late for an appointment - send me into a sky-is-falling tizzy. It's a trait that leaves one ill-equipped for coping when the sky actually falls." And the sky literally fell on the author and his family that day. They lived in the towers' shadow, in TriBeca, and their daughter was in school that morning - a school located at Ground Zero - a tizzy producing experience if there ever was one!!
This unusual hybrid book, 42 oversized pages printed on heavy card stock, is a combination of comic book illustrations and prose. It is an extremely personal memoir of the attacks on the WTC, which Spiegelman and his family witnessed at close range. It is a raving rant about the after effects of the violence and its repercussions throughout the world at large, and the smaller interior world of the author's psyche. It is the intimate story of one family trying to cope. It is an editorial about the political exploitation of this terrible event. The book is designed to be read vertically, just like the old comic strip broadsheets that appeared in newspapers. Each strip is a story, ten of them, followed by a comic supplement.
An image, seemingly burned into Spiegelman's eyelids, is the last sight he had of the North Tower just before it fell. He saw the building's skeleton, its very bones, lit up and glowing right before it vaporized. This image reoccurs throughout the book.
The country, the world, has seemingly become inured to the unthinkable, just three years later. The further away one lives from Ground Zero, the more removed the event. Art Spiegelman has given us a strange gift with his book - an honest memory of a devastating tragedy - a memory that depicts humor as well as horror, confusion, terror and heartbreak. All of us must move on, move forward. Oddly enough, Spiegelman's book helps us to do so by chronicling 09/11/01 and its aftermath, allowing us to let its vividness go. "Still time keeps flying and even the New normal gets old." "...though three years later I am still ready to lose it all at the mere drop of a hat or a dirty bomb. I still believe the world is ending, but I concede that it seems to be ending more slowly than I once thought...so I figured I'd write this book."
A beautiful book worth reading, worth keeping.
- Amazon readers rating: from 49 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from In the Shadow of No Towers at RandomHouse.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Maus, A Survivor's Tale I: My Father Bleeds History (1986)
- Maus, a Survivor's Tale I: And Her My Troubles Begin (1991)
- Maus: A Survivor's Tales: My Father Bleeds History / Here My Troubles Begin
- The Wild Party: The Lost Classic by Joseph Moncure (1994)
- In the Shadow of No Towers (September 2004)
- Open Me ... I'm A Dog (1997)
- Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies (2000)
- Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids (2001)
- Little Lit: It Was a Dark and Silly Night (2003)
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- Lambiek.net page on Art Speigelman
- BookSense.com interview with Art Speigelman
- The National Museum of American Jewish History on Maus Exhibition
- Reading Guide for Maus
- Tim & Jenn's Bookshelf review of Maus
- Maus Resources on the Web
- Art Spiegelman's MAUS: Working-Through the Trauma of Holcaust
- Pantheon Graphics page on In the Shadow of No Towers
- NPR interview on In the Shadow of No Towers
- Salon.com reveiw of In the Shadow of No Towers
- ICV2.com review of In the Shadow of No Towers
- Guardian Unlimited review of In the Shadow of No Towers
- Post-Gazette.com review of In the Shadow of No Towers
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About the Author:
Art Spiegleman was born in Stockhom, Sweeden in 1948 and immigrated to the United States with his parents in his early childhood. Spiegelman studied cartooning in high school and started drawing professionally at age sixteen. He went on to study art and philosophy at Harpur College before joining the underground comics movement. As creative consultant for Topps Candy from 1965-1987, Spiegelman designed Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids and other novelty items, and taught history and aesthetics of comics at the School for Visual Arts in New York from 1979-1986. In 1980, Spiegelman founded RAW, the acclaimed avant-garde comics magazine, with his wife, Francoise Mouly. His work has since been published in many periodicals, including The New Yorker, where he was a staff artist and writer from 1993-2003.
In addition to the Pulitzer which he won in 1992 for both Maus books, Spiegelman has been honored with a Guggenheim fellowship and nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
He lives in New York City with his wife, Nadja, and their two children.