Friday, February 19, 2010

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

Maus (pronounced mouse) is a graphic novel that is easily in my top twenty if not my top ten favorite books. This is not simply a comic book about super heroes. Maus is a true story of love and survival during the Holocaust. The narrative shifts between the present and past while the graphic novelist interviews his father about living in Poland during World War Two. It is a riches to rags story as Spiegelman, Sr. loses all his worldly possessions while dodging the Gestapo for as long as possible. Wars may end but their devastating effects are felt for several generations. The narrative structure allows the reader to see how an entire family, born and unborn, are affected by the persistence of and memory of war. World War Two shaped many lives directly and indirectly as seen in the relationships in the Spiegelman family, especially between father and son.

The graphic part of this novel is genius. Spiegelman chose to portray Jews as mice, Germans (presumably all Nazis) as cats and the Polish as pigs. Apparently, the popular German nickname of Poles was pigs, hence their depiction as such in the novel. The mice motif, depicting Jew as victims hiding in holes in the walls, is challenged by the narrative as we see them, not just as victims but as individuals actively fighting for survival. The way people looked was hugely important, race even more so. Imagine people trying desperately to not “look Jewish” and in the novel trying not to look like a mouse. The symbolism of the animals enhances the feeling of isolation as well as camaraderie in the novel. The art allows for body language to become a visible part of the reading experience which allows emotions to come through in a way that words often fail to capture.

Maus was a big surprise. I didn’t expect this kind of experience from a graphic novel. This is my favorite WWII text for sure followed by The Hiding Place and then Last Man Out. Oddly they are all nonfiction which is something I usually don’t get into. But it makes sense that true stories are the most touching and inspiring. I could go on but if you read it for yourself you’ll understand why I like it.
Publisher: Random House, 1986 (originally, 1973) Recommended Age: 13 and up
Source: IC Public Library                                        Pages: 159
Rating: 5 Stars

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