Just as Art Spiegelman's Maus presented a dramatic new framework from which to view the Holocaust, Mendel's Daughter combines an unforgettable true story with elegant, haunting illustrations to shed new light on one of history's darkest periods. In 1989, Martin Lemelman videotaped his mother, Gusta, as she opened up about her childhood in 1930s Poland and her eventual escape from Nazi persecution. Now, in Mendel's Daughter, Lemelman lovingly transcribes his mother's harrowing testimony, and he brings her narrative to life with his own powerful black-and-white drawings, interspersed with reproductions of actual photos, documents and other relics from that unsettled era. The result is a wholly original, authentic and moving account of hope and survival in a time of despair.
Mendel's Daughter opens with a picture of shtetl life, filled with homey images that evoke the richness of foods and flowers, of family and friends and Jewish tradition. Soon, however, Gusta's girlhood is cut short as her family becomes witness to the rise of Hitler, rumors of war, invasion, occupation, roundups and pogroms. We follow Gusta into flight, hiding and survival into the unfolding uncertainty of those terrible times.
As solemn and as hopeful as a prayer, Mendel's Daughter is Martin Lemelman is testament to Gustas bravery and a celebration of her perseverance. The devastatingly simple power of a mother's words and a son's illustrations combine to create a work that is both intensely personal and universally resonant.