Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale : My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
Illustrator: Art Spiegelman
Publisher: Pantheon Books
I read Maus I and II right after each other, so I figured I’d do a combined post. These are another example of a comic I picked up ages ago because I felt like they were required reading, but then let them waste away on the shelf untouched. I’m really kicking myself for not getting to them sooner. They were fantastic.
In the story, Art Spiegelman is interviewing his father Vladek, a Polish Holocaust survivor. The real story is of his parents’ struggle through World War II and their time in Auschwitz, but it’s framed with the story of the two of them and their somewhat strained relationship, which really adds another layer of humanity, showing how the war left its scars in their family. It’s a very personal account of a tragedy and its aftermath. The Holocaust is so extreme that I find it’s often an abstract idea to me, but personal stories such as this really help ground it and give it the weight it deserves, which is important I think.
In Maus, Spiegelman depicted Jews as mice, the Germans as cats, and the non-Jewish Polish as pigs. I’d read that this was to break the reader’s familiarity somewhat and see the events in a fresh light, and there’s also the obvious cat and mouse analogy. It does seem weird to choose pigs for the Polish, as the Jewish obviously aren’t really down with the swine, and that has some rather harsh implications. I can see how assigning an animal for each ethnicity could be very offensive, but if it’s read without considering any malicious undertones around that, whether they exist or not, it was quite effective.
This was the first comic to win a Pulitzer Prize, and it’s easy to see why. I’m very glad to have read it.