Art Spiegleman’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1992 graphic novel Maus is divided into two parts: the first starting with his father’s experiences during World War II, and the beginning of the horrible journey to Auschwitz, and the second taking place mostly in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and how he survived and escaped the camp.
The first part of Maus, with the subtitle My Father Bleeds History, focuses on how Art’s father Vladek met his first wife, Anja. As their love life grows, and the two become a married couple with a small son, Richieu, the war looms as more of a threat. At one point during the novel, the characters are on a train. As they go by the station, they see the Nazi flag flying. It’s a terrifying reminder of the horrors to come.
The beauty of Maus lies in the actual portrayal of people as animals: the mice are Jews, the cats are Nazi’s, and the pigs are people of other nationalities. In a world full of drawn symbolism, the animal forms of people works really well. It doesn’t hide the horrors of the Holocaust, but instead brings to light a fresh way in which to view the people who lived, died, and survived during World War II.
Each chapter brings you deeper into the war, deeper into how Vladek became a prisoner of war, then manages to escape by listing friends as relatives; you grow closer to the characters, and develop a lasting impression of the war through Artie’s drawings, and his father’s personal account. Sadly, there is nothing from Anja’s journals, because in a depressed moment, Vladek burned all the evidence of her accounts of the war.
This is a hard novel to blog about, not just because of the subject matter, but because this is one you need to read and experience for yourself. I can tell my readers what I experienced, but everyone gets something personal from reading a graphic novel. I urge anyone who is interested in reading survivors accounts–or anyone who is interested in history–to read Maus.
I love Maus, which is an excellent graphic novel. It’s one of my favorites. It’s real, visceral at times, and heartfelt. As Umberto Eco states: “When two of the mice speak of love, you are moved, when they suffer, you weep” (back flap of the book jacket). I’m grateful to Art and Vladek for sharing such a powerful, and much-needed, piece of history.