Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Review of 'Maus I: My Father Bleeds History' by Art Spiegelman

"Maus is the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler's Europe, and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father, his father's terrifying story, and History itself.  Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), succeeds perfectly in shocking us out of any lingering sense of familiarity with the events described, approaching, as it does, the unspeakable through the diminutive.  It is, as the New York Times Book Review has commented, 'a remarkable feat of documentary detail and novelistic vividness... an unfolding literary event.'

Moving back and forth from Poland to Rego Park, New York, Maus tells two powerful stories: The first is Spiegelman's father's account of how he and his wife survived Hitler's Europe, a harrowing tale filled with countless brushes with death, improbable escapes, and the terror of confinement and betrayal.  The second is the author's tortured relationship with his aging father as they try to lead a normal life of minor arguments and passing visits against a backdrop of history too large to pacify.  At all levels, this is the ultimate survivor's tale-- and that, too, of the children who somehow survive even the survivors.

Part I of Maus takes Spiegelman's parents to the gates of Auschwitz and him to the edge of despair.  Put aside all your preconceptions.  These cats and mice are not Tom and Jerry, but something quite different.  This is a new kind of literature."

I needed to pick a book to read for my Holocaust class, so I picked this one, since I've already read 'Night' by Elie Wiesel.

I had heard many good things from people who read it when they were in middle school and they remembered liking it very much.  So as a high-schooler, I decided to read this graphic novel.

A number of the things mentioned in this graphic novel are things that I've heard before, but what was unique compared to many novels and memoirs written about the Holocaust is that it covers the Jewish ghettos.  Art Spiegelman depicts what his father says about being moved from Poland into the ghettos where eventually, most people were moved to various death and working camps across Europe.  He talks about how his father and his family went into hiding, trying to disappear off the face of the earth.

Another thing that was put into this graphic novel was the relationship between Holocaust parents and their children post-Holocaust.  I am not an expert on parent-child relationships, but it is apparent that something is a little different about these relationships than those of non-Holocaust-parents and their children.  I think this was portrayed quite well in this graphic novel.

The art is great and very effective.  Art Spiegelman drew what his father depicted, but he also drew maps and diagrams to further the reader's understanding of what Vladek Spiegelman was talking about.  It was clearer in a way that other Holocaust stories haven't been or can't be.

Those of us who were never a direct part of the Holocaust will never truly understand just what happened.  We will never feel the emotional, physical, and mental strains that Holocaust survivors felt.  But I think 'Maus' gave us just a hint of this pain through the graphic artwork, Vladek's words, the story of one of the most terrible ways to break the human body, spirit, and mind.

I give 'Maus I: My Father Bleeds History':
Thanks for Reading!  The Sequel will be posted in a couple of days.


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