Maus, I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman. Source: Library. Format: Paperback, 159 pages, Pantheon Books New York, Random House, Inc., 1992.
Maus chronicles Art Spiegelman’s father’s experiences during World War II, and relays in black-and-white comic strips how he, Vladek Spiegelman, managed to survive the terror that was the Holocaust. This book, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a true masterpiece, a unique memoir of a man who endured unimaginable pain and suffering, who escaped death numerous times–and who came out of it deeply scarred but heroically strong.
Maus is a record of Vladek’s happy life as a businessman with a loving family before the war and the miserable, terrifying, desperate times he went through during it as a Jew in Poland. Vladek tells Art of the dark times he had to battle to survive: fighting on the front line, living in a Prisoner of War camp, being separated from his family, starving and risking capture to find food for his physically and emotionally fragile wife, chewing wood to fool one’s body into believing it was getting food, hiding in the cellars of non-Jewish Poles who would only shelter them in exchange for money, saying “Heil Hitler” to avoid arrest… However, the book also relays the strained relationship between father and son. Vladek and Art try to mend, to reconnect–but it is clear how the effects of war can completely change someone: Vladek guards his money closely, keeps all sorts of items and trinkets just in case he should ever need them, and has a tense relationship with his second wife, Mala, because he still hasn’t gotten over the death of his first wife, Anja.
There is always controversy over Spiegelman’s decision to portray people as animals. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, and the Poles are pigs. (If I remember correctly, there were even Americans as dogs.) Personally, I really liked this depiction. It gave a slight sense of removal from the pure horror of history, and it really showed how the Nazis (cats) saw the Jews (mice) as vermin, as a people that should be exterminated. *Shudder.* How could people do such disgusting things… and treat others so cruelly…?
The book ends right as Vladek is sent to Auschwitz. It’s an abrupt finish, leaving the story far from over. It’s not really even a cliffhanger because the book just stops. Obviously, we get to hear the rest of Vladek’s tale in Maus, II: And Here My Troubles Began, but the way to entice readers to pick up the sequel is… an interesting choice. However, it works–I definitely want to complete Vladek Spiegelman’s past through his son Art’s impacting comics.
This is a powerful book–a powerful graphic novel. There were distressing images that made my heart grow heavy and made me have to close my eyes as I tried to, and couldn’t, imagine the nightmares that happened less than a century ago. (Less than a century ago… How crazy is that.) Art Spiegelman created something momentous, a classic piece of writing and illustrations that will go down in time as something truly different and significant. ♦
About Art Spiegelman:
Art Spiegelman (born Itzhak Avraham ben Zeev) is New-York-based comics artist, editor, and advocate for the medium of comics, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning comic memoir, Maus.