I’m writing a paper about Art Spiegelman’s Maus and I just need to mention how good it is and how I feel like everyone with the least bit of interest in either comix or the Holocaust should read this! I had (and I shamefully admit this) never heard about either Maus or Spiegelman so I didn’t know what I was getting into when I choose that subject. But I couldn’t be happier that I chose this! The metaphor of the animals (Jews are mice, Germans cats) is uncomplicated and direct without being simple and is designed to make you think about such stupid allegories. The harsh style combined with an even harsher story draws you in immediately and the breaks between the ‘now’ and ‘then’ are heartwarmingly personal and as funny as they are crude.
And now just a quick synopsis…
The book alternates the stories told by Spiegelman’s father Vladek Spiegelman about life in Poland before and during the Second World War with the contemporary life of Art, Vladek and their loved ones in the Rego Park neighborhood of New York City. The book recounts the struggle of Vladek Spiegelman living with his family in Radomsko, Częstochowa, Sosnowiec and Bielsko in the late 1930s and his tragic odyssey during the war which ultimately led him to Auschwitz as prisoner 175113.
Throughout the book, Art Spiegelman confronts his complex and often conflicted relationship with his father. For example, Vladek exhibits racial prejudice against blacks despite his own experiences of anti-Semitism. He is also presented as stingy and a person who makes life very difficult for those around him, including his first wife Anja (Art’s mother, who committed suicide) and his second wife Mala, themselves concentration camp survivors. The personality of the present day Vladek seems quite different from that of the man in the concentration camps, where he was resourceful and compassionate.
I suppose what fascinates me most is how real it is. Spiegelman draws his father’s story as it was and is. He choose not to make a hero out of him (as many other films and other forms of stories about the Holocaust do) and not to make the Germans The Bad Guy, Vladek’s story is shown in utmost honesty. For example, Vladek can be a real ass.
But (though Spiegelman didn’t intend this) you still empathize enormously with him.
Mostly it’s the absolute misery and people’s reactions to it that’s so gripping though.