Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman

This is a graphic novel telling/showing one man's (the author/illustrator's father) experiences and survival of the holocaust. In the graphic novel, Poles are represented as pigs, Jews are mice, and Nazi Germans are cats (all Germans are Nazi Germans in this tale). I ... am not sure if the chosen animals are meant to represent anything in particular. It seemed pretty obvious to me that he chose cats as a natural foil to the mice, but I'm not sure what the pigs were supposed to represent. The tale includes Polish individuals that appear to be good, appear to be bad, and appear to be very self-interested. I hadn't really taken any particular "message" about the chosen animal, but I was curious.

So Vladeck Spiegelman (Art's father) was a man with a relatively new wife and a new baby when he was first taken as a prisoner of war at the beginning of World War II. He is eventually released and makes it back to his family, where he discovers that, while they still have most of their possessions, house, and money, they are beginning to live as prisoners in their own cities. As time progresses, the Germans demand more and more from the Jewish population, including their elderly, their children, their furniture, their homes, their lives. Spiegelman shows the perspective of someone who did not know what was happening---in retrospect, we know what Auschwitz is, but when it first came on the horizon, they did not know, and this was well portrayed in Maus I.

Because it's a graphic novel, Spiegelman is able to tell a horrific story in a way that is palatable for most. It is heart-breaking and tragic, but it is a little removed in its form of telling (which I do believe is the point). Also, Spiegelman incorporates other present-day story into the graphic novel, finding a way to humanize his father and what happened to him as well as provide insight into the impact such experiences can have on someone and, yet, how they continue to find meaning in their everyday lives and relationships.

I can't say that I "enjoyed" this, because it is, as I say, heart-breaking. But it was well done and informative. I think Spiegelman adds a lot to the area by presenting his father's story in this manner.

FOUR of five stars.

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