RATING :: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
AUTHOR :: ART SPIEGLEMAN
BOOK GENRE :: BIOGRAPHY/AUTOBIOGRAPHY/NON-FICTION
SYNOPSIS :: A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats.
Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father into an astonishing retelling of one of history’s most unspeakable tragedies. It is an unforgettable story of survival and a disarming look at the legacy of trauma.
“I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through! … I guess it’s some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did.” (II.1.6)
I read this autobiography comic strip about 3 months ago and never got the chance to write a review on it afterwards… my apologies for taking so long! There was so much going on in my own little world.
I had kinda anticipated more from this book since the first part of it- Maus: A Survivors Tale – had me completely mind blown, disturbed, and engaged with the story. Although it didn’t feel quite as powerful as the first, it still had plenty of things to ponder on and digest.
Art Spiegleman (the author and illustrator of this book) and his father have a dysfunctional relationship due to his father’s recurring trauma as a result of his experiences during the Holocaust.
One of the questions I had in my mind prior to picking up this book was how did Art think and feel growing up with two parents who’d been victims of horrifying conditions that left them both scarred beyond understanding. It was great to finally get a look inside his mind and feelings.
Fully aware of the fact that he does not understand what his parents went through during the Holocaust, Art still can’t help but feel guilty for not being able to comprehend the events they [his parents] barely survived (thanks to his father). He struggles to make sense of it but knows that even his illustrations of those events will never touch or come close to the reality of it.
I felt for Art as I read through his struggles as he tried to be of help to his father- Vladek. It was interesting to note how Art paints his visit to his therapist; he portrays himself as a mouse with a mask, growing smaller until he is seen like a child. I did wonder if this was Art’s way of expressing vulnerability and fear.
While Art expresses his guilt and shame for not understanding his father’s POV and suffering, Art’s therapist asks Art if maybe Vladik also feels guilty and ashamed, not for experiencing these events though, but for surviving when so many other people died. I’d wondered the same thing about Vladik and thought this might be the reason why he is so hard on Art.
While Vladik’s behavior is understandable, considering how much he went through and lost during WWII, and later lost his wife (Art’s mother) to suicide, I couldn’t help feeling less sympathetic towards him as I read through this comic. He is emotionally and mentally manipulative, and draining to say the least. To get anything his way, he nags and demands. He often walks over other people’s feelings, disregards boundaries, and, in spite of knowing what it’s like to be judged and oppressed for his race, he shows prejudice and distaste towards black people.
I often wonder how far one has to go until whatever circumstances they’ve faced that have won them sympathy and concern from others is pulled from under them due to repetitive [poor, inexcusable] behavior.
With that being shared, I honestly couldn’t help having these strong, mixed feelings towards Vladik.
As I read through his account of the multiple threats he encountered (I don’t feel there will ever be a strong/powerful enough word that might express how sickening the Holocaust was), I felt sympathy in my heart for him. In my mind I’d nod my head and think, “Of course, of course! It’s no wonder he’s a mess! Just look at what he went through…”
… only to go back to the present time and see his treatment of everyone around him and think, “What the hell, dude?! You can’t just treat people like that, you’ve experienced that yourself!!”
My mind would then shift to Art; I then wondered if the reason why he consistently showed patience and kindness to his father, in spite of how much he despised his father’s treatment of him, and took the time to help him in whichever way he could was because he felt that since his father was the Holocaust survivor who was victimized and traumatized, Art ‘owed’ him respect and honor even if he resented giving it to Vladik.
While Art is right about how his illustration of the events that took place in his parent’s lives will never match nor come even the least bit close to how it truly happened, I had to pause for a moment between every other page to place myself in the shoes of a Holocaust survivor, and ask myself, “Would I have made it? Would I have survived a day? How must have it felt to have run naked in the freezing cold after being starved and maybe even beaten, after working long hours without any decent amount of rest?”
Just like the first part of this autobiography and comic strip, the illustration captivated my attention and made it difficult to stop reading. While I can never truly imagine what it must have been like for the millions who went through this gruesome event in history, the art work depicted by Art was powerful enough to send its message across. Once again we have the cats drawn as Nazis, while the Polish are drawn as pigs and the Jews are drawn as mice.
The art work was powerful enough to make my stomach turn. I had to set the book down several times for me to grasp what I’d read and seen.
Anja (Art’s mother) and Vladik’s struggle for survival was no easy matter as they endured starvation, death threats and near death experiences, blows/beatings, hard labor, separation, sickness/diseases, and prejudice.
Imagine you’re killed just for the color of your skin or because of your faith, be it Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or Muslim…
As I sit and type this while in the comfort of a warm house, with my family close by, it occurs to me that I know I would never be able to handle the pain of being ripped away from the people I love, forced to endure brutal circumstances, and be hated by so many. My mind cannot fathom what it must have been like for the victims who not only survived, but who never made it out alive.
Even now as our country is facing division and conflict almost every waking minute, I wonder if it even comes close to what took place during the time of WWII. Is it worse? Or are we getting there?
Anything close to this? Is it amateurish? Is it equal? Or are we getting there?
No one, not even I, would want to believe that history can repeat itself, and yet we know it can. For those of us who are Christians, we know it will. [Matthew 24:3-13]
These are the kind of thoughts that cross my mind as I re-read Maus…
History definitely teaches you much.
Nothing positive can be gained from war and hatred. Repercussions/consequences often live on much longer than the events that caused them.
For Vladik, the repercussions of the Holocaust and the war made him lose his sanity, his honor, his family, and his happiness. For Art, he lost the chance to be raised by healthy parents, to play with an older brother, to have his mother stick around far longer, and to feel loved and accepted.
I strongly recommend this book. Given the events that have just recently taken place, I believe it may be wise to open our history books and take a closer look at the events of the past, no matter how long ago they were. While we are certainly not living in black and white 1939, it doesn’t discredit what we could be up against.
Thank you for reading!
Have you read Maus? If so, what did you think of it and how do you think it’s message is still relevant even today?