Maus

I must admit I already knew much of what I wanted to say before I read this book. It’s no stranger to me for I have read it twice before. Reading these books again is like visiting an old friend, but “friend” seems the wrong term to use, for there is nothing friendly in the tale it has to tell.

Maus, written by Art Spiegelman, is actually not one book, but two. It is comprised of two volumes. My Father Bleeds History tells of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, and his life a few years before the start of World War II, from the time he met his first wife, to living in the Jewish ghettoes as the Nazis took control, to his arrival at the gates of Auschwitz. And Here My Troubles Began is the account of Vladek’s life in the concentration camps and also of Spiegelman’s own life after the successful publication of the first volume.

These books also detail the difficult relationship between the author and his father. What I like about these graphic novels is that the author, in depicting his father, does not shy away from the more unpleasant qualities of his personality. He does not set out to make his father a saint, but to portray him as honestly as possible. His father can be stingy, suspicious, and critical, but when you read his story, you see where much of those feelings come from.

This book has been both praised and criticized for how the characters are drawn (Jews are portrayed as mice, Germans are portrayed as cats), but that characterization in no way lessens the impact of the story. To see characters beaten, shot, and even hung is just as disturbing, whether they look like mice or people. This is definitely not a book for young children.

That said, I still feel this book is worth reading, and it should be read. Maus does for literature (and yes, to those snooty-nosed purists, this is literature) what Schindler’s List does for movies. Some things you just have to see and some things you just have to read. (Incidentally, a good follow-up read is MetaMaus, which is the story behind the story of Maus.) For its harsh, yet honest, portrayal of life for the Jews under Nazi rule, there has been nothing to equal Maus in graphic novels before or since.

Heather, the Graphic Novel Goddess