MAUS I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History
MAUS II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began
By: Art Spiegelman
Reviewed by Christy H.
Maus recounts the story of Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust survivor parents and their time in Auschwitz. He tells the story, however, unconventionally in graphic novel form. With Jewish people drawn as mice and Germans drawn as cats, Maus is unlike any other Holocaust memoir.
Volume one begins with Spiegelman visiting his elderly father Vladek and interviewing him for this book. Through this we learn that Spiegelman’s mother, Anja, died in 1968 by suicide, and Vladek is remarried to a woman named Mala although unhappily. Vladek also begins to tell the story of how he met and married Anja and the many, many trials they endured throughout World War II. First they were in a ghetto, and then bounced from hiding place to hiding place. They eventually decide to escape to Hungary but they are arrested by Gestapo on the train and taken to Auschwitz.
Volume two opens with Spiegelman (in human form wearing a mouse mask) struggling with his success after the release of volume one. He feels guilt for the way he’s portrayed his father and guilt for all the murdered lives his success was built on. It’s a poignant way to break the fourth wall and remind readers of the real lives affected. Back in the story, Vladek continues his story of his life in Auschwitz – how he found out his beloved Anja was alive and how he snuck out letters to her; how he bounced from job to job inside the camp; how he saved every little thing which often times would come in handy later. Spiegelman knows this is the root of Vladek’s extreme and maddening thriftiness but he can’t stop being annoyed by it just the same. Spiegelman received criticism for portraying his father in such a “bad light” but I never saw it that way. Vladek has severe flaws like any human but he’s a very sympathetic character.
Both volumes are tough, heavy reads but ultimately worth it. They are as fascinating as they are heartbreaking. I’m not entirely sure of the reasoning behind Spiegelman’s decision to make everyone animals but I do find it interesting and effective. His black and white art is deceptively simple with much more going on than a first glance would suggest. Writing this review proved difficult because I don’t feel like I’ve properly conveyed how good this tragic yet touching memoir really is. But I can say I would highly recommend this modern classic, especially to anyone who likes their historical readings a little more personalized.