Reviewed by Meygan
“No, darling! To die, it’s easy. But you have to struggle to live! Until the last moment we must struggle together! I need you! And you’ll see that together we’ll survive. This always I told to her.”
In his autobiographical book, Maus, Art Spiegelman uses his relationship with his father and his father’s past to create an amazing work. Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, is a holocaust survivor and that experience has deeply affected his life and that of his son. Vladek is quite the character and the book’s comic relief comes in the form of father and son bickering about everything: when Vladek should take his medicines, how often Art should come to visit his father, Vladek’s new wife, and the list goes on and on. The book flashes back and forth between past and present but is done smoothly and with perfect timing. Vladek begins by telling Art about how he met Anya, Art’s mother, and how profound their love was. Anya’s parents were extremely wealthy, so Art and Anya were under the impression that they would be well taken care of. However, even the wealthiest people couldn’t escape the Nazi’s clutches. Vladek and Anya both escape the ghetto they were forced to live in, frightened about what their next move will be. They endure starvation, harsh weather conditions, and constantly have to watch their every move so they are not spotted for being Polish Jews. While book one does not end well for Vladek and Anya, book two takes on a more sinister twist.
So what made me read this? Well, Maus was a required reading when I was an undergraduate student. I read the first one, but not the second. I admit I was a little surprised with I first picked it up because it was in a graphic novel format. That ended up being one of my favorite parts about the book, the unusual way he uses to tell his father’s story. He uses different animals to represent races (Jews are mice, Nazi’s are cats, French are frogs, Pollocks are pigs, and gypsies are moths). I was curious as to why Spiegelman did this, assuming that perhaps he used animals so his father’s tale wouldn’t appear as distressing to readers (after all, the book had to sell). But I found a better opinion on Shmoop.com. Spiegelman used mice to represent how Jews were viewed as pests, how cats/Nazis were the predators, and the pigs were used because Nazi’s often referred to Pollocks as pigs.
Spiegelman does a superb job of establishing the emotional attachment from the reader to the characters. The book can be quite grueling, but there is some humor to make it easier. I appreciate Spiegelman’s honesty about how difficult it is to be a child of a holocaust survivor and how difficult it is to be a father of a child who doesn’t know the first thing about being a holocaust survivor. The two different aspects complement one another in Maus. After reading both books, without hesitation I would place Maus in my top 20 of all time. I was disappointed to see that there isn’t a book three because I did have questions that weren’t answered, but perhaps Vladek’s story was better left as is.