A couple of years ago, Pulitzer prize winning artist, cartoonist, and author, Art Spiegelman, came to my college to speak about his two graphic novels, Maus I: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began. Spiegelman really captured the audience at his lecture and I knew I eventually wanted to read his unique work. When I went to The Strand bookstore the next year, I saw the first part of Maus on a table display and grabbed it right away, which led me to buying the second part soon after.
Though Holocaust stories are always affective and important to me, I believe Maus stands out among the rest. Besides winning multiple awards, including a Pulitzer, it was also included in Flavorwire‘s “30 Books Everyone Should Read Before Turning 30.”
Maus is the first graphic work I have ever read (I read parts I and II in tandem, so I really consider it one work). In it, Spiegelman recounts the story of his father’s survival during the Holocaust as a Polish Jew. It follows his father from being the rich owner of a textile company, young and newly married to Spiegelman’s mother, to being forced to leave his home and become an inhabitant of the slums in Srodula, to ultimately becoming a prisoner of Auschwitz.
Perhaps what sets this story apart from other accounts of the Holocaust is its form. Not only is this a graphic work, but Spiegelman also illustrates his father’s story using a quite appropriate anthropomorphic element; the Jews are mice, the Germans are cats.
Spiegelman also incorporates some meta-writing and meta-cartooning in his story by framing it around his experience of writing the comic itself. He shows us his struggle with feelings of contempt and guilt while trying to record his absent-minded and argumentative father, making the story not just about his father’s (and mother’s) survival, but also about Spiegelman himself, a child of survivors. By framing the story like this, he’s able to show us what life can be like after surviving something as horrific as a concentration camp. We see that, although survivors may have overcome pain that most of us, not even their children, can imagine, they are not perfect. They can have bad habits, they can be sad, they can have the worries and uncertainty about life that we all experience. And their children can have just as many lapses into judging their parents harshly and being overly critical, just as any children can.
Maus is not just a story about surviving the Holocaust, it’s about what comes after–and the legacy survivors leave behind through their children.
Rating (out of 5):