My Brother’s Book
by Maurice Sendak; illus. by the author
di Capua/HarperCollins 32 pp.
2/13 978-0-06-223489-6 $18.95 g
If, as Wordsworth wrote, “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity,” Sendak’s vision of a Dante-esque search for his beloved brother Jack (1924–1995) is poetry in both word and art — though tranquility is only achieved with reunion in the sleep of death. In an eloquent introduction, Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt links this posthumous book to A Winter’s Tale, “absorbed, redistributed, and transformed into something rich and strange” and also notes the familiar Sendakian relationship between love and menace. Indeed. “Guy’s” dreamlike quest is riddled with such opposites: light and dark, heaven and the underworld, fire and ice, winter and spring. The visual imagery in the postcard-sized art is haunting, with nude adult figures recalling William Blake’s ardent seekers after truth; the sleeping babes in the wood; and multiple moons (now faceless, unlike in We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, rev. 1/94) plus stars and suns. Some of Sendak’s most poignant themes take on even more resonance and universality. Holocaust references, while still present, are not explicit. Eating, or being eaten by, a powerful figure now involves a bear — not Shakespeare’s, exactly, but a polar bear that is intrinsic to the brothers’ transfiguration. As the ultimate not-for-little-children Sendak, this profoundly personal book about loss and healing should find its audience among thoughtful adults (and perhaps some teenagers).
From the January/February 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.