I read Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began separately, but they have since been combined into one book (The Complete Maus) and they are basically two parts of the same story, so I figured it just made sense to review them together.
If you are unfamiliar with these books, they are graphic novels/nonfiction/memoirs about Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, and his experience living through the Holocaust. The first book deals with his life pre-war and just after the war began, and the second book begins with Vladek getting sent to Auschwitz and details his time there up until the end of the war when the surviving prisoners of the Nazi death camps were released.
I loved these books so much that I’m not sure where to begin with my thoughts. I suppose since these are graphic books I’ll start with the illustrations – they were PERFECT. I was invested in the story, not just through the words, but also through the pictures. I can’t imagine how Spiegelman was able to draw places and events he never personally experienced as well as he did. I felt so in the moment, such a part of Vladek’s life, and that is a rare feeling for me with graphic books. Also, I loved the depiction of different nationalities of people as different animals – Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Americans as dogs, etc. I thought it added so much to the story (not even going into the significance of which animals went with which groups of people).
Now, onto the story. Vladek’s story is disturbing, heartbreaking, tragic, and so difficult to read at times. Yet I couldn’t tear my eyes away, no matter how much I may have tried (okay, I didn’t try THAT hard). His story was told in such a fascinating, heartfelt way that I couldn’t help but stay with him through it all. It is never easy to read about life in a Nazi death camp but Spiegelman made his father’s story come to life, made his story one that I HAD to read, and let’s face it – it is important for us to read stories like this. It’s important to remember that what we view as an event in the history books was reality for millions of people who suffered through it for years. It is important to remember the people and stories behind the facts of history. And Spiegelman brought his father’s story to the forefront of my mind, so much so that along with Eli Wiesel, when I think of the Holocaust now I will always think of Vladek Spiegelman.
Another great aspect of Maus is the interactions between Art and Vladek. The story alternates between Vladek’s memories and Art’s interviewing Vladek to get to those memories. It was really a huge part of the story, the relationship between Art and his father, and I think it added a lot to the story. It allowed the reader to see another side of Vladek, to get to know the person behind the writing and drawing, and to watch as Art and Vladek grew their relationship, through theirs ups and downs as father and son. These snippets of their relationship were so heartwarming, such a welcome break from the difficult scenes about the Holocaust.
I cannot possibly recommend Maus I and II enough. If you are new to graphic books, this would be a perfect place to start, and if you are an old pro with the genre – why haven’t you read these yet?? In all seriousness, I loved reading these books and I give them my highest praise. Art Spiegelman is pretty much a genius in my book. I hope many of you pick up these books so you can come back and tell me what you think!