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The Complete Maus
by Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman and his father, Vladek, don’t get along particularly well, but Art wants to capture his father’s memories of his life as a Jew in Poland under Hitler. He begins interviewing his father in a series of recorded tapes. Over the next decade - Maus was originally serialized in Raw magazine from 1980-1991 – Art struggles to translate Vladek’s memories into a graphic novel format as his relationship with his aging father becomes increasingly strained. Within this framing narrative, the story of Vladek’s life under the Nazis unfolds, as his family is forcibly moved from one Jewish ghetto to the next. Each time, their situation becomes a little more unbearable. Eventually, Vladek ends up in Auschwitz, separate and alone, but always driven by an intense desire to survive and be reunited with his wife.

Maus has long been one of my favorite graphic novels. Of all the stories of the Holocaust, Maus has proven to be the most memorable. I mean, I read The Diary of Anne Frank and Night by Elie Wiesel, but this is the story that I remember most vividly. It must be the mice.

The mice. I always wonder what inspired Spiegelman to depict the Polish as pigs. The rest of the animals made sense to me, more or less. The choice of mice for the Jews works, because they were the ‘weak’ victims in the story – and in German there’s a word which means ‘to speak like a Jew’ – mauscheln. If Jews are mice, then cats seem perfect for the Germans. They’re always the enemy of mice, right? The Germans, at the end of the war, are defeated by the Americans – so the Americans are dogs. Dogs also come in all shapes and sizes, reflecting the melting pot of American culture. Fine and dandy, it all makes sense! Also, French people are frogs. Because, y’know, they’re French. No further explanation needed there. But why are the Poles pigs? For all I know, it could have been because there’s a lot of meat in Polish cuisine, but that seems unlikely. Given the Jewish perspective on the cleanliness of pork, it isn’t a flattering choice. Is it because their actions tended to be selfish, from the perspective of Jews like Vladek, and they made decisions based on self-preservation? I don’t know, but there has to be a good reason for it.

Art’s relationship with his father really holds the story together for me. As the child of a survivor, Art is removed from the events of World War II, just like the reader. In a way, it makes him easier for me to relate to than Vladek, because like me he’s grown up in the aftermath of the Holocaust. He isn’t a hero who survived against insurmountable odds – he’s the normal child growing up in the shadow of the hero. It is the little things he does or says that makes me laugh. For example, in a car ride with his wife Art complains that when he was growing up, he always felt like he was fighting against his “perfect” brother, who was killed during the war, several years before Art was born. The dead brother never “threw tantrums…[he] was an ideal kid” forever immortalized in a snapshot on his parents’ mantelpiece. Sibling rivalry with a brother killed in the Holocaust? Terrible, but a little funny, too.

If you’ve never read Maus, be sure to check it out. I think it’s one of the best Holocaust memoirs out there.

5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Complete Maus, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: Uzumaki Vol. 1 by Junji Ito
2010: Fashion Victims by Michael Roberts
2009: Giveaway #12 Winners
2008: Romeo’s Ex: Rosaline’s Story by Lisa Fiedler


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 4th, 2013 03:57 am (UTC)
I've been meaning to check this out! Thanks for the review. :)

(By the way, your review says 5 stars, but your tag says 3. Might want to correct that!)
Mar. 4th, 2013 04:32 am (UTC)
Good catch - thanks for letting me know!
Mar. 4th, 2013 05:39 am (UTC)
My grandparents all survived the Holocaust, and there's a visceral hatred for much of Poland, among the survivor community. Like about the same as the Germans. Many Polish people actively collaborated with the Nazis, plundered Jewish goods and property and of course, Auschwitz was in Poland. Consciously or not, many survivors had a deep deep hatred for Poland for what happened.


Then you can go into the symbolism, beyond non-kosher. (All animals

1. Polish were pigs who were fattened up on Jewish goods, only to be slaughtered when the Nazis finished with them.
2. In religious Jewish tradition, the pig is an example of falseness. A pig has cloven hooves but inside, it doesn't chew its cud and isn't kosher.

Mar. 6th, 2013 03:17 am (UTC)
Thank you, that was really helpful!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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