I wonder what kind of imagination Art Spiegelman must possess to come up with something as brilliant as Maus (German for ‘Mouse’). This graphic novel is a depiction of the two phases of the author’s father Vladek Spiegelman – one, of during the Nazi regime and the other, of his experiences as a Holocaust survivor after World War II.
Initially, Spiegelman published this as a 3-page comic strip in 1972 before publishing it as two separate volumes – My Father Bleeds History in 1986 and And Here My Troubles Begin in 1991. It took almost 13 years for the author to complete this book and it was finally published as one single volume after 1991.
In the pursuit to compile his father’s experiences as a concentration-camp survivor, Art Spiegelman has various conversations with his father that he records over a period of years. Based on his research, he compares his father’s present-day attitude with who he was during the Holocaust. He notices that his father has become increasingly stingy and difficult to deal with. His father’s second wife, Mala is another survivor who makes brief appearances throughout the book also.
As a book about historical fiction, Maus is by far the best I have read. It might be one person’s opinion but the situations that the author writes about make a deep impact on the reader. He also portrays the various changes that the family has gone through – from a period of wealth to a time of utter penury while living in a ghetto. The Wall Street Journal has called this book “the most affecting and successful narrative that has ever been done about the Holocaust”. According to me, while many movies and other books talk about the same topic, the approach that Spiegelman takes is by far the most original and the most creative.
The title a mystery by itself but is solved as soon as the first illustration is seen – the author has brilliantly portrayed American power, German dominance and Jewish suppression by using a simple dog-eats-cat-eats-mouse logic. The Americans are portrayed as dogs, the Germans as cats and the Jewish of course, as mice. The title thus makes more sense now. This allegorical usage of animals has won much praise for the author.
Another interesting aspect of this book is that it is a tale within a tale. Art Spiegelman tells his own story while listening to his father’s. The family is shown to be distant from each other – mainly characterized by small arguments. At the end, the story is of survival – Spiegelman doesn’t know whether his father is guilty that he survived (his first wife committed suicide) since he doesn’t seem to be too grateful about it. While Vladek has survived the Holocaust, Art has survived the negative changes that he has seen in his father.
This year, Pantheon is going to publish a companion to the entire Maus series titles Meta Maus. Be sure to get your hands on both the books for your reading experience will only go up a notch higher. By the way, Maus is also the only graphic novel to have won a Pulitzer Prize – all the more reason for you to read it!