maus: a survivor's tale

Title :: Maus: A Survivor's Tale (vol. 1: My Father Bleeds History, vol 2: And Here My Troubles Began)
Author :: Art Spiegelman
Completed :: Mar 13/17 2008
Rating :: 5/5

This was my first venture into graphic novels and I'm glad I chose this particular one. I've been on a World War II kick for some reason, I guess I'm still amazed that something so outrageous, so awful, so life changing happened not that long ago. I like tales of survival that make me question whether or not I would be strong enough to have gone through what they did. This particular Holocaust survival story was different for me because I found it to be raw. It just seems to emit this sense of truth and nothing but the truth, no sugar-coating, no glazing over bits, just telling it how it was. I feel this was doubly achieved by Spiegelman's inclusion of the actual interview process with his father. Its obvious that the two don't exactly get along and get on each other's nerves. Here was the perfect opportunity for Spiegelman to glorify his father, to make is seem like he looked up to him as a hero but instead his graphic novel is blunt, right between the eyes.

The use of animals to represent people I found to be very appropriate on many levels. For one it makes it easier for the reader to distinguish who is who in the panels. The Jews are represented as mice, all looking exactly alike except for individual characters' wardrobe. The use of mice has a double meaning, it shows the Jews as being timid and also as the so-called 'vermin' the Germans announced them to be. The Germans are then shown as cats, the mouse's venerable enemy. The Polish are represented as pigs, something which I read the Polish were not very happy about but I believe Spiegelman counteracted that by saying he chose the pig because it resembled American cartoon characters such as Porky Pig and Miss Piggy. It may have also been a decision based on the fact that the pig plays a big part in the agriculture of Poland. I doubt there were any malicious reasons for choosing the pig since a few Polish characters are shown to be sympathetic to Vladek and his wife Anja. As a clever anecdote Spiegelman depicted Jews wearing pig masks as they walked around pretending not to be Jewish, something which without the use of different animals would have been difficult to portray clearly. Americans are represented as dogs, the French frogs, the British fish and the Swedes reindeer.

I find it ironic that although his father went through this terrible act of prejudice and attempted elimination of an entire 'race' (I put 'race' in quotes because I believe in only one race - the human race) there's a scene in the graphic novel where his father shows his prejudice against blacks. After leaving the grocery store where he successfully returned half eaten food, a black man standing on the side of the road is trying to hitch a ride. Spiegelman's girlfriend pulls over to help him out, immediately his father starts panicing wondering what the heck she's doing. Doesn't she know that these people can't be trusted? That they're theives and for all she knows they could be murdered! Prejudice is a very strong entity and it would seem that not even having survived one of prejudice's worst trials one cand still turn around and be hateful to someone different than them.

Vladek's account of having actually seen and been told how the gas chambers work at Auschwitz I think is probably an important piece of evidence in the history of World War II. After reading Maus I watched Schindler's List and the idea that people knew vaguely what was going on at the concentration camps through rumors but never fully believing that anything so awful could be in existence is perhaps unique to that particular era. I think today people might be more inclined unfortunately to believe such things if they were told, which makes me think what kind of society have we become? We do seem to have the ability to believe more easily in negative things we are told. Does this mean we have become desensitized in first believing in the greater good of mankind? And if so are we better off? Are we more prepared to face the 'evil of our time'? Just something to chew on but it really makes me wonder if this ability to easily believe the worst effects our better judgement when it comes to taking action. Sorry seriously off topic of the book!

As I was saying previously I really enjoyed Spiegelman's window into his life and the life of his father, Vladek. Nothing appears to have been too personal to share, everything is there in print from the death of Spiegelman's younger brother through poisoning to his mother's suicide. Emotions are perhaps clearer utilizing the format of a graphic novel, pure joy at receiving a bar of chocolate (something which I certainly take for granted) becomes much more when you can see it as well as read it. With that being said if you haven't picked up a copy of Maus I suggest you do so. Did I mention the fact that it won a much deserved Pulitzer Prize? I'd like to check out Spiegelman's own account of September 11th, published as In the Shadow of No Towers. I hear that it got mixed reviews but I'd be curious to see how raw this particular account is. From "Spiegelman expresses his feelings of dislocation, grief, anxiety, and outrage over the horror of the attacks---and the subsequent "hijacking" of the event by the Bush administration to serve what he believes is a misguided and immoral political agenda." (and this is what I meant earlier about the dangers of so easily believing in negativity because it can be used against us and thus give consent to the propagation of negativity)

Other Thoughts ::
: 1 more chapter (vol. 1 & vol. 2)
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . a winter's tale . afi . afi .


posted by Ashleigh @ 11:52,


At 1 April 2008 at 15:52, Blogger Danielle said...

I've not read this yet, but it is on my list. I do think that we are so bombarded now with so many visual images that after a while they tend to lose meaning almost or impact. In WWII since people depended on the wireless and newsreels and newspapers--it seems graphic in a different way, but not so completely obvious. It's sad to hear something bad, but it's worse (for me anyway) to actually see it in vivid color over and over and over again. You realize just how horrific the world can be and there is no such thing anymore as naivete. You describe the book wonderfully.


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    ashleigh (ash'lė) n.
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