Title: Maus, I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History
Author/Creator: Art Spiegelman
Illustrator: Art Spiegelman
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Publication Date: August 1986
Genre(s): Graphic novel, Memoir, Historical non-fiction
It was summer, I remember. I was ten or eleven…
Art Spiegelman’s father and mother were both sent to Auschwitz in 1944 during the Holocaust. Both survived only for his mother to eventually commit suicide. Art decides to ask his father about his life during the war and writes everything down, hoping to create a comic about his father’s story, engaging people who may not otherwise be interested in World War II. Though it is a long, painful story, Vladek Spiegelman tells his tale of persistent fear and heartbreak.
Never before have I read a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. I think this is a very interesting format for the genre and, as Art knew, a great way to engage readers to learn about the Holocaust. Maus I is kind of like story within a story. We get parts about Art in the present, interacting with his father and asking him to tell the story; we also get Vladek’s story of the past. Another really cool thing about the novel: the characters are all animals. Like adding the time travel to The Devil’s Arithmetic, Art gives Maus a fantastical element by writing the characters as animals. Being a memoir, I’m not going to really judge the “plot” because it’s a true story about a man’s history. I will say that I am very interested in learning about the Holocaust, so I did like this novel. I think it’s mostly just background information leading up to the sequel, though, which takes place in the concentration camps. Maus I is about Vladek’s life before the war and during the early stages of it. It’s not all about the war, but it’s interesting to read nevertheless.
Again, this is a memoir; the “characters” are real people even though they are depicted as animals. Not only does this choice make the story more interesting, but it adds a deeper level of symbolism, too. The Jews are represented as mice because both Jews and mice are thought of as pests or vermin. They are also prey to many animals, especially cats. The Nazis, as I’m sure you could assume, are depicted as cats — they hunt mice. The non-Nazi Poles are depicted as pigs. The Poles are pigs because most of them did not helps the Jews nor try to stop the Nazis — they simply did whatever they could to benefit themselves. I thought this idea was incredibly clever and I think Art was very smart to do this. People criticize that it trivializes such a horrific time in history, but I think it succeeds in adding a deeper level of meaning.
Being a graphic novel, it’s hard to judge the writing. Art recorded his father’s story and, I assume, used as many direct quotes as possible for the novel. Sometimes it’s a little hard to understand, though, due to the way Vladek speaks. For example: “Then a little more we spoke and he made to me a proposition.” There are other examples I’d rather show you, but I currently cannot find them. Anyway, I assume it’s because Vladek’s Jewisth dialect is different than what I’m used to. It’s not bad at all, just different and strange to read sometimes. The illustrations, though, are great. They are very simplistic, but I like it. It’s all in black and white, too.
Obviously, I will be reading the sequel; it takes place in the concentration camps, so I’m very intrigued.