Art Spiegelman’s two-part graphic novel blends humor and pathos in such a natural way that the reader doesn’t even notice the transitions. Although I’ve read excerpts, I’d somehow managed to miss this one for a long time. I’m very glad I finally rectified that situation.
For those not familiar with the conceit, Spiegelman portrays the conversations and interactions he has with his father, an immigrant Polish Jew and a survivor of Auschwitz. The art depicts each ethnic group as a different animal -the Jews are mice, the Germans cats, the Poles pigs (Americans are -of course- Golden Labs). This (along with the heavily accented syntax and word choice of our narrator, Vladek) gives the whole affair a dreamlike quality that sharpens the horror and depravity. It’s a brutally honest portrayal, and not only of the Holocaust. Vladek, a survivor of one of the most heinous culminations of hatred, is a blatant racist. His son (the author) is somewhat embarrassed by him confessing that, “In some ways he’s just like the racist caricature of the miserly old Jew”. He is even more disturbed by his suspicion that this is one of the reasons his father may have been able to survive.
Maus confronts and attempts to illuminate complicated and interconnected ideas about family, trauma, and cultural identity, among much more. Both big ideas and big events are addressed in novel and powerful ways -everything that has followed these two books is touched by their powerful effect. While traditional narratives like Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’ are certainly powerful, the straightest path is rarely the one that provides the most encompassing view.
Recommendation: Buy them both. Even if you don’t think you like ‘comic books’. Get over yourself and buy the goddamn books.