by Art Spiegelman
Art Spiegelman tells his story and his father’s story about the Holocaust and its reverberating effect in this Pulitzer Prize winning comic. Spiegelman wants to tell his father’s account of living through the Holocaust accurately, but acknowledges that his experience as a child of Holocaust survivors has a role in the telling of the story. The book mostly focuses on his father’s survival during the Holocaust but also includes the damaging emotional after-effects of the Holocaust on Spiegelman’s family. Although a work of non-fiction, the comic depicts people with faces of animals representing their nationality: Jewish people are mice, Germans are cats, Polish people are pigs, and so on.
I grew up in an area of Canada that was home to many Holocaust deniers. One of the Social Studies teachers at my high school assigned Maus every spring, and every spring his car was vandalized. So he kept assigning Maus. I wasn’t in his class, but I sought Maus out as an adult because a book that contentious ought to be read. I’d read about the Holocaust and I’d read Holocaust fiction before–even fiction about the children of survivors–but I’d never read anything like Maus. Definitely one of the best comics I’ve read and one of the best non-fiction books too. The drawings are clear and the story is well told. Spiegelman’s choice of depicting people as animals makes the book simultaneously less horrific–when you see dead bodies of mice instead of Jewish people–and more horrific–when you take a moment to realize that each mouse is a stand-in for a real human being. I could say a lot more about the representation choices and the drawing style and the design layout of the book, but that gets into essay territory and I want to actually motivate people to read this! Without getting into the meaning of it all, I think it’s a respectful way of showing the horrors of the Holocaust without overly desensitizing or traumatizing the reader. What I really appreciate about this book above all the great things I could say about it is that it doesn’t treat the Holocaust as a singular event in history, but as an individual-by-individual trauma that has echoed into the present. I’m glad that the teacher in my school continued to assign Maus throughout his career, because I think it is an accessible way for teens (and adults) to understand the legacy of the Holocaust and empathize with its victims.
Recommended as a teaching aide in history units, but generally a great read for anyone who likes historical comics, comic memoirs, memoirs in general, Holocaust stories, or contemporary Jewish stories. I consider it required reading for comics aficionados.