The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
Since Maus has been around for many years now, I’d heard a lot about it. Even though it had won many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, I was always put off reading it. I was never quite sure why that was? Maybe I didn’t feel grown-up enough to understand someone’s personal experiences about the Holocaust? Or was it because my expectations were too high, due to being over-hyped by the media?
Recently I noticed a copy of The Complete Maus in a bookshop, so I decided it was high time that I should read it.
Maus is a semi-biographical/autobiographical tale of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, Anja, living and surviving Hitler’s Europe and the Holocaust. The story is written in present tense, with the past events are retold through conversations between ‘Artie’ and his Father.
The first thing you notice about Maus is the use of animal characterisations, akin to George Orwell’s Animal Farm. In the first chapter of the second volume, And Here My Troubles Begin, there is a debate on which animal should be used to represent the French:
Françoise: What are you doing?
Art: Trying to figure out how to draw you…
Françoise: Want me to pose?
Art: I mean in my book. What kind of animal should I make you?
Françoise: Huh? A mouse of course!
Art: But you’re French!
Spiegelman ends up depicting the French as frogs, however since his wife points out that she’s a Jewish convert - she’s allowed to be a mouse. There are times when the anthropomorphisms are turned on their head, for example: when the German Soldiers are using sniffer-dogs, (p.113); are they American? Or maybe they are German Shepherds? Then later there is a framed picture of a pet cat, not a German, but a real cat! (p.203).
The relationship between Artie and his Father is quite complex. It’s obvious that he loves his Father very much, yet there are times in the book when you feel that the only reason he is visiting his Father is to gather material for his book, not because he actually wanted to see him. After everything Vladek has been through, I find it difficult to understand how Art wouldn’t help him put up the wind-blockers or help fix the roof.
During the book, Spiegelman becomes very introspective, starting to question the method of his writing and whether he can/should write about the Holocaust. I found this to be somewhat tiresome after a while. And I have mixed feelings about the ‘cut-in’ story Prisoner of the Hell Planet: I can appreciate that Spiegelman included it to bridge the gap for readers whom haven’t read it, but part of me felt that it was only there as a page-filler and to showcase his previous works.
Although Vladek’s character has many flaws, (such as his racism), I have a lot of respect for him. Using his wits, intelligence and resourcefulness (along with luck), he managed to survive the Holocaust and persevere through until the end of the war. I would have liked to read this book during high-school, specifically when I was studying WWII in history class, as it would have given an excellent viewpoint of the effects of Nazism and the Holocaust. The Complete Maus is an amazing book, which is both hugely educational and entertaining.