So. Maus. I basically never really heard of these books until I read Laura’s review of MetaMaus a while back, and the idea intrigued me. A survivor’s tale of the Holocaust in comic format, in which the Jews are mice and the Nazis are cats? Interesting. And it was.
So, basically Maus is written and drawn by Art Spiegelman, whose father Vladek was a Holocaust survivor. Though he and his father weren’t very close for many years, they eventually start talking again and Art interviews his father about his story. Maus 1 is the first volume, in which Vladek recounts his story from the time before he meets his wife (and Art’s mother) Anja, to the time when they are both captured and taken to Auschwitz. It also shows the beginning of Art’s interviews with his father, and we catch glimpses of their strained relationship and Vladek’s difficulties in old age.
Maus 2 continues the story, starting with Vladek and Anja being taken to Auschwitz and eventually to the end of the war. At the same time, Art and Vladek’s relationship continues in the present day and Art tries to deal with some of the issues he has as the result of being a child of a Holocaust survivor, as well as trying to deal with the commercial success for Maus 1.
These books are extremely well done. Some may think that such a serious topic in comic-format would lose some of its importance, or its horror, but that would be wrong. Instead the awfulness of this time and of Vladek’s story is accentuated by the simple but strong images. Vladek’s story as a survivor is impressive – while he certainly suffered, he was also resourceful and in fact sometimes it was hard to wrap your head around just how awful it must have been for him. But then you glance at the pictures and see the starved corpses and hanging bodies around Vladek and it reminds you of the pain he must have gone through. The fact that this story is done in comic-format made it one of the most powerful Holocaust stories I’ve read.
While Vladek’s story was definitely sad and captivating, I found the present-day scenes between Art and Vladek just as interesting, if not more so. In his younger years, Vladek was smart and financially successful and his cleverness and restraint served him well when he was trying to stay alive. In his older age, these traits have hightened – to the point of ridiculousness in the eyes of the other characters/ people in the book. Vladek has become extremely frugal and prefers repairing things himself or other things to save money where he can. This actually really helped me to relate to Vladek – my grandma grew up during the Great Depression and she had some of the same habits. The comic also shows how frustrated Art was with his father, and how hard he worked to be objective when creating Vladek in the book. I did find it… odd, I suppose… that Art and Vladek didn’t seem to really grow closer throughout the interviews, but maybe that’s explored more in MetaMaus. (Which, by the way I have from the library now and I’ve flipped through it and it seems awesome. I need to read it soon.)
Also depicted in the book is Art’s struggles – the guilt he feels for having an easier life than his parents, his issues over his mother’s suicide, frustration and confusion over how to proceed with such a rough topic, and trying to deal with the commercial success of Maus 1.These were some of my favorite parts of the book.
I think his use of animal heads to show the races of the characters was really clever and really useful. I think that the same story but told with comics of human characters would have been overkill – the use of animal heads was a simple style that I really liked and left more room for detail to the story and setting. And there are all sorts of metaphorical and sociological implications to it as well, but seriously that could be a whole separate long-ass blog post. There are a lot of things to discuss in this book – the father-son relationship, the Holocaust, racism, the comic format as a medium, the effect of the Holocaust on later generations, etc. It would take hours for me to really talk about it all.
Maus impressed me in a lot of ways. It was certainly captivating and thought-provoking and just fantastic. I borrowed the copies I read from the library, but I’m going to have to go out and purchase my own, and I’m sure I’ll litter them with post-it notes expressing all my thoughts and ideas and such about the book. Cause that’s what I do.
Anyways, you should read Maus. It will only take you an afternoon to read 1 & 2 (or the complete volume, if you have it) and then you can come here and talk to me about it, yes?
Sarah Says: 5 stars