Maus, by Art Spiegelman

pub 1986 & 1991
Review by Jenn

When I was a kid I had to take catechism classes, and I remember how they used to describe the Crucifixion for us - generally it was something like "Christ died on the Cross." It sounds so nice and clean that way, doesn't it? Sort of like, "Once upon a time in America, black people were thought of as less than human and treated as slaves," or "sixty million Jews died in Hitler's Holocaust." That last, now, is perhaps our most recent atrocity of magnitude, and still there are relatively tidy ways of putting it, such as, "Many Jews were put to death in gas chambers, " or "hundreds of thousands of Jews died of illnesses brought on by the poor living conditions of the concentration camps."

There simply is no way to truly express the horror of Man's inhumanity to Man unless one has lived through it, and even then it can be almost impossible to fathom. In the words of Vladek Spiegleman, "The Jews did not believe what was happening in front of their eyes." The horror may be almost impossible for us to realize, but Maus, by Art Spiegleman, brings us close to doing so.

The two books of Maus (Part 1: My Father Bleeds History and Part 2: And Here My Troubles Began) tells Vladek's story as related by him to his son Art, an artist who tells his father's story in an unusual way through his chosen medium - comic book art. Drawing the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats, Art Spiegleman, an American-born son of Polish immigrant parents who had been through World War II Poland and the Auschwitz concentration camp, poignantly and vividly records not only his parent's story, but his own struggle to come to grips with his father's horrifying tale of truth and his own uneasy relationship with Vladek.

Both Maus I and Maus II each won the Pulitzer prize - deservedly so, I felt. Instead of the cartoon art minimizing the story, Spiegleman's pictures enhance the seriousness of it and carry an almost cinema-type method of portraying a scene to depict a mood or symbolize a state or emotion. Spiegleman uses admirable and unflinching honesty in portraying not only his father, but himself and his own failings in dealing with his father as well.

Although it carries a few comic moments designed to be tension-relievers, Maus is definitely not a "feel-good" type read. It can be a heavy work, but an important one, and the skill with which it was rendered is truly extraordinary.