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The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman

29 Aug

MauzCombined for the first time here are Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale and Maus II – the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, living and surviving in Hitler’s Europe. By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival – and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

it’s easy to get lost in the horrifying statistics of the Holocaust but this personal account makes for a powerful and poignant view on one of histories most tragic events. Hindsight of the inevitable makes this book doubly sad, reading of those incomprehensible actions of past that can only be relived with a sense of helplessness and inevitability.

Presented in black and white, the art fits in with the footage and photos from that time, an almost unreal, colourless world which makes it easier to digest than most literature concerning the Holocaust. Characters are represented as animals and the inevitable questions are raised over what exactly these animals say about each race, naturally simplistic generalisations are easy to fall into but there is surprising depth to be pondered upon.

Spiegelman opts to introduce us to the events through the tried and tested story within a story approach, which works well up to a point, its strength lies in allowing the reader to form an understanding of how events in World war II have affected and irrevocably changed Vladek Speigelman.  Viewing his idiosyncracies with this hindsight makes for more depth of character which is a welcome aside from the obvious barbarism.

The family dynamic is fascinating, with hardship running through the past and guilt issues in the present, it is understandable how the family is like they are.  I didn’t expect to find them irritating but the foibles are repetitive and not in the least endearing, there is even a mention of racism which is interesting after the experiences of war.  Perhaps the author being of a younger generation struggles to understand the atrocities and concepts in the US now at (relative) peace.

The authors’ struggles to record and find meaning in the past adds an extra dimension to the writing and shows how the effects of such a terrible time affect the writer as well.  There are lots of vulnerabilities to all of the characters, from the constant fear and lack of control over life to a fresh start with survivor’s guilt.

The sense of terror is palpable throughout, the social consciousness and the sometimes mercenary ways that were employed to help the Jews by a population under a brutal regime are all shown in their stark nature and there are lots of questions lying in the background about the character of humans in extraordinary situations.

This is an easily accessible book when it comes to understanding the ideas and the feelings that go together with the history and although it does have some truly grim imagery and characters, it never overstates the concentration camps, if such a thing is possible.  It is not gratuitous for the sake of emotion, it is what it is. Whilst processing the numbers and the actual lives is extremely difficult, this book is a good platform for those seeking to understand.

When I first picked this up, I understood there was a lot of hype about this book and to a certain extent I didn’t find it justified, it is let down by a few points.  There is some cultural stereotyping and whilst part one is a tightly written piece, part two feels to diffuse.  There is plenty of breaks in Vladek’s story as we are pulled into the present and the premise of the book is this man’s memories so to be constantly interrupted does become a little counter productive..  It is difficult to keep immersed and I did get frustrated by it after a while.  The bottom line is that Maus is a forthright tale of random acts of luck and betrayal set to the backdrop of despicable events and is eminently readable but lacks a little something.

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25 Comments

Posted by on 29/08/2014 in Graphic Novels

 

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25 responses to “The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman

  1. colemining

    29/08/2014 at 17:30

    I studied this book in a uni course many moons ago. It is quite powerful- in the context of Holocaust studies and in the stark portrayal of experiences. Spiegelman is brilliant at allowing the story unfold for maximum impact. His ‘In the Shadow of No Towers’ about the September 11 attacks on NYC is almost as powerful. Have to grab all three out of storage for a re-read, methinks.

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    • Ste J

      29/08/2014 at 17:35

      I didn’t know he had done a 9/11 one, I may seek that one out. I think the story of the Holocaust in Maus was diluted by too much moving around between past and present, I wanted to be immersed in the moment and the modern day parts did feel weaker…as to the core memoirs though, they really were harrowing and a powerful insight into what went on.

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  2. Al

    29/08/2014 at 17:38

    Sounds like it could have been sensational had it had that extra little thing

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    • Ste J

      29/08/2014 at 17:42

      I think it would probably be difficult to not engage in the sentimentality of the subject but for me…well perhaps I am just overly critical about these things. I think perhaps some are swayed because it is about the Holocaust and cannot see past that to be truly critical…having said that I do feel it is an important book for all its faults.

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      • Al

        29/08/2014 at 17:43

        Cool. Probably not one that I would add to my collection though.

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        • Ste J

          29/08/2014 at 17:51

          A shame but if you do see it at the library or anything, it is a quick read.

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          • Al

            29/08/2014 at 22:11

            If I see it as a loaner on Amazon Prime I will, or in the library as you say

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  3. Love, Life and Whatever

    29/08/2014 at 17:53

    Holocaust is such a sensitive era to talk and write about the heart wrenching sagas…and the thin line between humanity and inhumanity…I adore your objective style of reviews…it gives reader a clear perspective..

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    • Ste J

      29/08/2014 at 18:04

      This review was particularly troublesome as I was aware that the vast majority of readers do not see fault in the book at all and of course I don’t want any hate mail! I had to be fair and honest about it though otherwise people wouldn’t keep reading my words.

      It seems inconceivable that such a short time ago this happened and is still happening in places around the world. It is good to know that however harrowing the subject matter, that people have the capacity to be moved by it and hopefully to learn from it.

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  4. shadowoperator

    29/08/2014 at 18:18

    I knew about this book a long time ago, but allowed myself to be swayed by my basic disinclination to read graphic novels to put it aside. But now my brother has my 11-year-old nephew reading his copies of the two books, and they insisted that I read. So far, I’m about 1/2 way through the first book, and I must say, I’m impressed. The thing I don’t understand is why the Polish are represented as pigs. I know that some Polish went with the Nazis, but a lot of the Polish people too were victims of the Nazis just as the Jews were. I guess there’s something I’m missing. The cat-and-mouse equation is a little easier, not because of any resemblance to the real animals in the ethnic groups (and I quite like a real cat), but because of the predator-victim equation. But even that needs some explication and exception: there were a lot of brave Jewish freedom fighters in WWII who couldn’t be seen as victims by any stretch of the imagination. Anyway, I’m taking it easy, will no doubt finish the first book soon and go on to the second.

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    • Ste J

      29/08/2014 at 18:42

      It does seem to be fairly consistent when depicting the peoples, I did some research on the symbolism of the animals and there are a lot of different views on that. I just hope that people don’t generalise and base their opinions on the examples in the book as with most things there needs to be objectivity, I think my review tries to give that and I hope it succeeds. I am glad you like it, there are some very good graphic novels out there, I personally avoid all superhero type stuff and try and go for things that push the genre or will make me stop and think for the most part, unsurprisingly.

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      • shadowoperator

        29/08/2014 at 19:29

        Another favorite work of my male relatives which also started in a graphic novel is “V For Vendetta.” How do you feel about that one? That has a hero of sorts, though I think it also “pushes the envelope” of the genre.

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        • Ste J

          29/08/2014 at 19:45

          It’s one of the Alan Moore works that I haven’t read…I hear mixed reviews of it but will give it a go at some point. I have slowed down with my graphic novel reading in the past year. I did enjoy the literary illusions in The Extraordinary League of Gentlemen, although I hear that the film was a bit rubbish.

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          • shadowoperator

            29/08/2014 at 19:49

            I don’t know the book of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” therefore I’m not sure what literary allusions you’re referring to, but I did catch about 20 minutes of the movie. It didn’t hold me; Sean Connery was the big drawing card for me, anyway, but I got bored and stopped watching.

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            • Ste J

              29/08/2014 at 19:58

              Yeah the movie was dull. The League are famous literary characters that live in an alternate version of our world, there is Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the Invisible Man and Mina Murray to begin with and interwoven into the stories are lots of literary nods, from the obvious to the obscure. It’s as fun to find them as to read the books, every time something is referenced it is from a real book which makes me happy and adds to my TBR pile.

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  5. RoSy

    30/08/2014 at 17:54

    Not sure I could get through a book or books like these without the frustration of the realities in them.

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    • Ste J

      31/08/2014 at 09:52

      It did leave me shaking my head many times and can be a challenge in terms of emotional response, however it does go to underline the risks that people saving jewish people took and that their is sometimes kindness in the most extreme of situations.

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  6. quirkybooks

    01/09/2014 at 06:23

    This is an awesome review. It, had me hooked. Interesting about the survivor’s guilt. I guess it must be difficult to feel relief and guilt, all at once.

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    • Ste J

      02/09/2014 at 18:42

      It must be unimaginable to understand a concept, being highly religious then that must have mean’t there was some meaning for some Jews to survive, but going the other way if it was just random then perhaps that is even worse…fascinating thoughts all round though and another dimension to the book. Glad you liked it.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • quirkybooks

        04/09/2014 at 01:18

        You always give a good overview. Keep up the great work.

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  7. Sherri

    01/09/2014 at 20:50

    I will have to look out for this book as I can’t get my head around how it would be to read in this kind of format with such a powerful story to tell. I am fascinated by it though because of your intelligent and considered review but am troubled by the difficulties you mention so wonder how I would find it in the end.

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    • Ste J

      02/09/2014 at 18:56

      I think it would have been a lot more powerful with humans drawn instead of animals but would have put a lot more people off I as well. I think for a book of this nature, the library is always a good place to have a browse. It is surprising how certain parts of some graphic novels do have a powerful effect. I will be most interested in your opinion though.

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      • Sherri

        02/09/2014 at 23:38

        Yes, I must remember the library. I recently renewed my membership so perfect excuse to visit…watch this space!

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  8. LuAnn

    05/09/2014 at 13:43

    As I was reading your review (which was amazing by the way), I was vacillating on whether or not I would want to tackle this book. I am not adverse to reading about this subject and have in the past, as well as have known those who were in the concentration camps. I believe I have settled on reading this as I am curious how Spiegelman tackles this heartrending subject through the use of animals.

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    • Ste J

      06/09/2014 at 16:53

      The animals make the whole story less real so therefore more bearable but I would be interested to find out your take on the symbolism of the character races. I think it is a book worth reading but not up to the hype. Perhaps it will give you even more insight into the people you met who had been in such terrible places as well.

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