The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

“…life always takes the side of life, and somehow the victims are blamed. But it wasn’t the best people who survived, nor did the best ones die. It was random!”

maus

Synopsis from GoodreadsThe Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in “drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust” (The New York Times). Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.

Feelings: It’s really interesting to see Vladek’s point of view, no only during the war, but before it as well – long before it. He tells his son about his own father’s military experiences in Siberia (where he pulled out 14 of his teeth in order to escape) and how he and Art’s mother met. I was intrigued by what all Vladek had to do in order to avoid the Gestapo. He and Anja had to beg, barter, borrow, and more just to try and survive, constantly being on the move and being incredibly afraid.

What’s really special about this collection of comics is that vulnerability. The author is also a character in the book, discussing his insecurities about trying to write his parents’ truth, which he says was, “a reality that was worse than [his] darkest dreams.” You see him struggling to get the complex reality down on paper and then doing so in a compelling and moving way. The art style itself was really simple. I had just finished a book club where we had read a superhero comic book, discussing the funny anecdotes in the backgrounds of all the panels, like hidden gems. With Maus, though, there were no distractions. The focus was on the storyline, itself, with nothing hidden in the artwork that you needed to closely inspect.

Issues: Art and his father were both so awful to Mala! They were hateful both to her face and behind her back. At the same time, though, she was pretty awful right back toward them. What a strange dynamic.

It was really difficult to get through the sections about gas chambers in Auschwitz. I think it was harder to read about this topic in a comic book setting because of the visuals. It’s one thing to imagine it in your head and it’s another to actually see it drawn out in front of you. As difficult as it was to see, I appreciate that Spiegelman didn’t hide any truths from his readers.

Characters: Vladek reminded me of my grandfather. Now, my grandfather didn’t go through the Holocaust or anything remotely like it, but he was frugal. He placed a high value in making smart monetary choices, all for the betterment of those he’d leave behind when he passed. The cinching of the purse strings frustrated Vladek’s wife, which is something that felt familiar,as well. Also, I liked the way Vladek’s dialogue was written. I could hear him in my head very clearly, accent and all.

I felt for Art. He had a hard relationship with his father, struggling to understand the history that shaped his father. He also wrestled with the death of the older brother he never knew, who died during the war, as well as the loss of his mother. This book focuses a lot on relationships – both with family and with others.

Final thoughts: It’s hard to describe my feelings towards this book. I didn’t necessarily “enjoy” reading this book, because it deals with a heavy subject. If you’re looking for something that’ll lift your spirits and make you laugh, go elsewhere. But if you want to read something that shows you a whole new narrative on a history you thought you knew, this is the read for you. I’m glad that I read it.

Pick this up if you liked:

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

Goodreads rating: 4.51/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.6/5

My rating: 4.5/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

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