Combined 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.