Monday, January 1, 2018

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

I didn't intend for my first book of 2018 to be so depressing, but MAUS is such a creative, important book. In MAUS, Art Spiegelman uses the medium of graphic novel to tell the moving, and sometimes hair-raising story of his father, Vladek: a holocaust survivor from Poland.

Juxtaposed against scenes where a now middle-aged Art is chatting with his elderly father in his home in Queens are scenes of the gradual chokehold that that Nazis formed around what later became Nazi-controlled territories. Vladek Spiegelman married into wealth with his first wife, Anja, and their lives before the war were rather luxurious. Slowly that all dwindled as their predominately Jewish area became one of the ghettos, and they were forced to run and hide for many years, until at last, someone promising to smuggle them both into Hungary betrayed them to the Nazis, and they ended up at Auschwitz.

Even though this is told biography-style, MAUS reads as being a little surreal, because Art chose to draw all of the "people" in his book as animals: the Jews are mice, the Nazis are cats, the neutral Poles are pigs, and the Americans of the present day are dogs. It was a really interesting choice stylistically, and I'm not completely sure why he did it - maybe to remove the reader one step from the horrors contained within the comic? There's a scene in here, one of the modern parts, about what happened when Vladek found a comic strip he did about his mother's suicide, which is included as an excerpt. This comic, "Prisoner on Planet Hell" is done with real people, which adds an extra layer of surrealism: a mouse, writing his memoir as a human.

If you're interested in WWII history and enjoy those "literary" graphic-novels that are about more weighty topics than capes and superheroes, I really recommend MAUS. Vladek is such an interesting man, and his firsthand account of survival is just that: firsthand. Really exceptional read.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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