Book Review – Maus by Art Spiegelman

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Maus is a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. It’s mainly about his father’s experiences during World War II, but Spigelman also writes about the experiences of getting the story from his father. As such the narrative jumps between past and present. The Jews are Mice, the Germans are Cats, the Poles are Pigs, and the Americans are Dogs, but the story offers a visceral slice of humanity.

Maus is mostly haunting, but at times it’s amusing and whimsical. It feels raw as the author leaves nothing out. I like the way the story is structured as it shows how the past affected Vladek, and how that in turn affects his relationship with his son. Spiegelman presents his father as an infuriating, frustrating figure, yet it’s always tinged with a hints of sadness and melancholy. At times I felt sympathy for Spiegelman, and other times I felt he was being rather harsh, but obviously I was being reminded of what Vladek had been through in the concentration camps. It does raise an interesting question about how far sympathy should be given to be people after tragic circumstances, and how much can be blamed on that and how much is the actual person.

The experiences in the concentration camps were sometimes difficult to read. I don’t know about other people but even though the characters were depicted as animals it didn’t make the story any less emotional or palatable. It did give the opportunity for some nice touches though, like whenever a Jew was pretending to be a non-Jew Polish person it showed them wearing a Pig’s mask. Furthermore, just because animals are used, the Holocaust is not treated as an abstract concept. It simply presents these experiences as they happened, showcasing ingenuity, quick thinking, and sometimes just plain luck.

I found it to be an involving read and I can only imagine how difficult Spiegelman found it to write. The artwork is good with some moments of absolute brilliant, but as high as the praise for Spiegelman should be, a lot of credit must go to his father as well, for without him the story would lose a lot of its heart.

I’d definitely recommend Maus but it’s by no means a light read. It deserves to be read at a gentle pace to allow every ounce of its humanity to be absorbed.

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