Book Review – The Complete Maus

The Complete Maus
Art Spiegelman
Children of Holocaust survivors
2003
296

Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in ‘drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust’ (The New York Times).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.This combined, definitive edition includes Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale and Maus II.

‘The most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust’

– Wall Street Journal

 

‘The first masterpiece in comic book history’

-The New Yorker


My first graphic novel and what a wonderful book to read!

Spiegelman does a great job of recounting his fathers story of the holocaust. The broken English of Vladek and the interspersion of his miserly acts in between the telling of the horrors of holocaust sort of balances the narrative and makes you want to read this book till the end. But for it, I am sure, people would not have read the book in it’s entirety.

Through the book, I kept wondering if the resourcefulness of Vladek may have helped him survive the camps. But at the same time Anja and Mala too survived the Auschwitz and somewhere you couldn’t help but wonder the truth of – “…But it wasn’t the best people who survived, nor did the best ones die. It was random!”

My Rating: 5/5

A few gem from an Obama speech writer…

Every once in a while you come across an article that packs a punch. Here’s one by Obama’s speech writer about growing up.

There are too many gems hidden in it, each of which can stand on its own. So, I though, I’ll pull them out as bullet points for myself.

  • Impulsiveness can often pass for decisiveness, especially when the stakes are high
  • One secret to solving big problems, is knowing which little problems to ignore
  • Decisions are only as good as the decision-making process
  • Generosity is a habit and not a trait
  • Children strive only for pleasure; adults strive for fulfillment. Children demand adoration; adults earn respect. Children find worth in what they acquire; adults find worth in the responsibilities they bear

 

The sorry state of research in India

If you have done quantitative research of any sort in India, you would have noticed ‘show card’ written on the questionnaire and noticed the interviewer clumsily thrust a wad of papers at the respondent. Ever wondered why it is a ‘show card’ and not ‘show paper’? To answer this, let me go back about 25 years and talk about the first consumer research I witnessed.

The research was a sequential monadic one with paried comparison at end for a white detergent bar. It was most probably for Hindustan Lever Limited (as Hindustan Unilever Limited was known back then). Don’t remember who the research agency was but the thing I clearly remember was how professionally it was conducted. The entire research took a few weeks – about 2 months if I remember right. There was ample sample given to test – ~4 big bars of each type which would easily last a couple of weeks or more. The researchers asked if my mom could wash a few clothes with the samples given before them, just to be sure of her washing method. And, there were always 2 researchers administering the questionnaire, one asking the questions and the other overseeing and manning the show card. The ‘show card’ was a set of A4 cards with the responses which were neatly laminated and spiral bound. Both the interviewers were extremely diligent in asking the questions and noting down the answers that my mom gave. The gift for participating in that research was a casserole of some sort.

That was the last I saw any ‘show cards’. 12 years later, when I oversaw my first research, they were ‘show papers’ but still called ‘show cards’.

Now contrast that research to a similar one done these days… The entire research is extremely hurried – often a sequential monadic test is completed within 2 weeks. A very small sized sample is given to test – ~30ml shampoo or ~50gm of toilet soap – which is hardly enough for a few uses. Not many check the actual usage in such quantative researchers, even on a sub-set of the sample. And, only one researcher manages the entire interviewing process. The gift given at the end is pretty much the same, a casserole of some sort.

To give other examples where I was a respondent… A researcher knocked on my door one day to check what kind of DTH connection I used. I said, “Tata Sky” and she asked my name and promptly replied, “Thank you, Sir. If some one comes to check, please tell that I interviewed you. I don’t want to waste your time.” It’s anybody’s guess what data was filled in as my response to that lengthy questionnaire she carried. BTW, I disqualify for such type of research as I am in one of the professions that is in the research exclusion list and she didn’t even check that part.

The worst was what I experienced in the Government of India census survey 2011. Either my wife or visiting parents gave the responses for the main census (which was largely filled in using the society member data with the chairman) so it’s hard to guess the quality of data capture. And, between the main census and the caste census, I shifted houses and misplaced the slip they gave that identified us and our responses in the main survey.  I was home when the interviewers came and all they asked was for the slip (which I couldn’t give) and paste a stamp on the door stating the caste census was completed.

Even with this broad, anecdotal comparison, its easy to see how the quality of research has gone down substantially over the years. While I am not sure when and how this happened, I suspect it has a lot to do with companies trying to cut costs at one end and heavy cost competition among the research agencies at the other. This meant cheap, contracted field teams collecting data on ground and low quality researchers analysing and presenting it at head office. Overtime, this cost pressure has also lead to dearth of good talent in the field. Today, as newer types of research fields open up –  data analytics, data science etc., – the best talent (statisticians, researchers) go there.

I think this ‘quality of research’ problem is very severe today. Sample these…

  • Indian Readership Survey: Several newspapers rejected 2013 data questioning methodology of the new research firm that conducted the survey.
  • Television Audience Measurement: BARC got setup citing inadequacy of data capture by TAM. Then, a few years later both merged.
  • FMCG Retail Audit Measurement: FMCG firms and Nielsen that conducts this survey have a love-hate relationship with retail audit data being questioned multiple times in the last few years – 2009, 2015.

The above issues are just a few about large scale researches. I am sure every brand manager has questioned and/or rejected findings of a smaller quantitative research citing ‘bad data collection’ once in a while. I am specifically stating ‘data collection’ because not many brand managers and even research managers understand the statistics behind the researches – the sampling methodology, the rating scales, the analysis techniques. Hell, many don’t understand the research methodology/design in  its entirety. And, that’s where the bigger problem lies – people aren’t questioning the basics.