Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review: Maus 1: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman (1986, Pantheon)

Recommended for ages 13+

Maus simultaneously tells the story of Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, and his survival during World War II (including his imprisonment in Auschwitz), and of Spiegelman’s often tumultuous relationship with his father.
The story begins in the 1970s when Art visits with his father and his father’s second wife, Mala, to learn more about his father’s life in Poland during the war for a book he wants to draw. Art’s mother, Anja, also a survivor of the camps, committed suicide in 1968. Vladek begins the story of how he courted Anja, their marriage and firstborn son, Richieu, and how Hitler came to power, bringing with him an increasingly hostile and unsafe Germany for Jews. The story concludes with Vladek and Anja in hiding after Germans begin putting Jews on trains to the camps.
The reader also learns quite a bit about the relationship between Vladek and Art. A complicated relationship, the reader sees Art’s – and Mala’s – frustration with Vladek, who comes across as argumentative, cantankerous and miserly. He is quick to accuse Mala of wanting only his money, even stealing from him and he wants Art should be living more frugally. Maus is Art’s attempt to reconcile Art’s own feelings about his father by learning about what made him the man Art knows as much as it is his attempt to tell his father’s story.
Maus is told in words and pictures, and these pictures have brought Spiegelman under fire in the past. He was accused of racism for his portrayal of Poles as pigs and French as frogs; he portrayed the Jews and Nazis as mice and cats and responded that all of his depictions were metaphorical. The story is starkly laid out in black and white, giving depth to the story and adding a layer of despair as the Jews’ situation worsens in Poland.
The parallel story of the relationship between Vladek and Art is equally prominent and fed by Vladek’s background. His experiences under the Nazis have formed him as they did his wife. Her suicide doubtless affects Vladek but he tries not to speak of it. The reader sees Vladek honestly and will respect him for what he’s lived through while seeing that he is a difficult man to love, despite his obvious love for his son. Vladek and Art have a complicated relationship, which many readers will understand. Maus stands as a very personal memoir of the second World War as well as a memoir of Art Spiegelman’s attempts to grow closer to his father.

Maus won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize and was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle in 1986 and 1991; it also received a Guggenheim Fellowship (1990).
Art Spiegelman is an American cartoon artist. In addition to Maus, he released In the Shadow of No Towers, which covers the events and psychological fallout of September 11th, 2001. He does not have a website, but has a page on Facebook.

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