Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
Nonfiction - Graphic Memoir
Winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize
Finished on 6/13/09
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
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.
It's been years since I first heard about this book and I'm glad I finally got around to getting a copy to read. I've never read a graphic novel (although that's a misnomer for this work, as it's not fiction but rather a memoir), so I wasn't sure what to expect. Would the cartoons distract me? Would they minimize the horrors of the Holocaust? Surprisingly, I found I didn't spend too much time looking at the drawings and wondered if this was common or if a true graphic novel demands more attention to the artwork. And I certainly didn't think this form of narrative did anything to minimize the severity of the story. If anything, its impact might actually have been enhanced, rather than minimized, by the fact that it's such a horrible story told in a medium normally reserved for more innocent, child-like pursuits.
Maus is a deeply moving story, especially knowing it's Spiegelman's father's true history. In spite of the subject matter, I enjoyed this compelling book (as well as one can enjoy such a tragic tale) and I look forward to reading Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began.
Go here to listen to an excellent NPR interview with Art Spiegelman.