I was browsing my library’s catalogue and I had the sudden urge to check whether they had Maus. I knew they stocked graphic novels because I borrowed Scott Pilgrim last year. Maus is one that I’ve been wanting to read for quite a while – I really love WWI and WWII novels and included it in my post on Conflict in Books, although I haven’t read many – but I also didn’t want to read it because I was afraid that I’d find it too upsetting.
The Complete Maus contains Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale and Maus II, and is the story of Vladek and Anja Spiegelman, living and surviving in Hitler’s Europe. It is written and illustrated by Art Spiegelman, also known as Artie, from his father’s memory. Out of the many, many books about the Holocaust, I can see why Maus is hailed to be one of the most exceptional and essential, and why it won the Pulitzer Prize.
Maus‘ graphic novel-style approach means that you’re not only reading, but almost watching, the Holocaust. It’s surprising then – or perhaps not so surprising, since it is about humans after all – that it is occasionally humorous. Vladek has the ability to experience joy even in the most tragic of situations, as well as banter with his son. Maus does not serve to be an overview of the causes of, and events leading up to, the Holocaust, but is an honest portrayal of one couple’s personal experience of trust and betrayal, separation and reunion, starvation and torture, and most of all, survival, in time that resulted in the death of 6 million Jewish people.
It’s almost unthinkable and nowadays. People may think they know how they would respond to such a terrible act, but Vladek and Anja Spiegelman’s story shows how difficult it was, in the 1930s and early 1940s, for people – from fellow Jews to the Polish – to decide whether they should help those in need or protect themselves. It was impossible to know who to trust as your own family could refuse to help you escape a ghetto, or they could turn you over to the Gestapo, if they thought being selfless could get them killed, and people would offer to hide you away from the Germans, but only if they were getting paid. Maus does not shy away from the most harrowing experiences, especially those involving children, but depicts them in a sensitive yet honest way.
If you’ve not yet read a book about WWII or the Holocaust, then please do pick up Maus. What always strikes me, and what I find most terrifying, is that these events are seen as history, but they did not occur that long ago, perhaps in your own parents’ or grandparents’ lifetime, which is not a very long time at all.
Published: 2nd October 2013 (originally published in Raw, 1980–91)
Publisher: Penguin Books
If you liked: The Book Thief and Between Shades of Gray