A story of a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father’s story and history itself.
How can I write a review of a book that broke my heart time and time again? Seeing this story in this way is wholly disarming. Everything about the way this tale is told is jarring and unsettling in the fact that it is completely tragic and moving. Vladek, the narrator of the Holocaust narrative in this book, is matter of fact in his rendering of the story. His tone is indicative of “this is the way things were, it’s as simple as that,” and this casualness is part of what makes this narrative so overwhelmingly heartbreaking, because while the events he details are true, his account being first hand, the fact remains, the war and the events itself are stains against the backdrop of history and will forever mar humanity in its grotesqueness. It almost feels wrong not to shout from the rooftops how wrong everything was, but of course, that is what makes this narrative so authentic is that there is no embellishment, all matter of horrors were these people’s realities.
The historical context gives the necessary foundation for the undertones of this story, and the reader is left to infer certain details, which is the narrator’s way of paying homage to those that were lost. In its own way, knowing what happened to these people without being told explicitly is worse, because we know the history, we can infer when the details are left out. The knowledge of the past is like a phantom, hanging over the reader and the narrator, waiting in the sidelines only to creep up on us and drop a bucket of ice water on our heads in each of these instances. These moments come and go so fast, that there is something in their simplicity that makes them so beautiful.
What I find most compelling about this story, is that this story isn’t like traditional Holocaust narratives, though it is rich in the history of the events that happened and includes details that would otherwise be missed in other stories. What sets this story apart isn’t the way that loss is depicted, or fear, or even the juxtaposition of the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats, though that certainly is an element that highlights the injustices. What this story illuminates more than anything is the sense of hope, always this sense of hope that things will get better, that they will survive, that they will overcome. Somehow through everything, Vladek holds to this hope. When we see the young hopeful Vladek against the old miserly Vladek being interviewed by his son, a part of me wants to ask, “What happened to you?” Which in and of itself it’s an unfair question, because intellectually I know what happened, I know someone cannot go through such trauma and come out unchanged. However, the Vladek we’ve seen and been left with in Part I still clings to hope, this is the dominant impression of him that I am left with. I can only guess that Part II will unveil the rest of his development. Maus Part I is definitely a book that should be read in schools alongside “The Diary of Anne Frank”, “Night” and “The Hiding Place” to name a few of the main ones.
Title: Maus, I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History
Author(s): Art Spiegelman
Pub. Date: November 1st 1991
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Non Fiction, Memoir