Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Art Spiegelman - The Complete Maus (Graphic novel)

Title: The Complete Maus
Author: Art Spiegelman

ISBN # 0141014083

Publisher: Penguin Books

First Published: 1996

296 pages

Format: paperback

Rating: 8/10

Combined for the first time here are Maus I: A Survivor's Tale and Maus II - the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, living and surviving in Hitler's
Europe. By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival - and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

I haven't read a graphic novel since I was about 14 or 15 years old and now I'm wondering why I ever stopped, as this one is so very good. I loved the "voice" of Vladek - so very, very Jewish, with his reversal of words within sentences. I also enjoyed the fact that each little section started with Art visiting his father and occasionally had Vladek saying something like, "But I don't want you to write that bit in your book." It made it feel all the more personal, yet making the reader one step removed from the action.

The whole animals-as-people* aspect makes it feel very Orwellian in approach, but having the story presented in cartoon pictures makes a difficult subject more accessible to the reader, in a way that we perhaps wouldn't be if it were only words on the page, or action on a screen.

The only time human faces were given to characters was during the section where Art's previous strip about his mother's suicide in the 60s. Perhaps because it's after the war and the people were no longer categorised in the same way as they were during the atrocities. I also especially liked the symbolism of the roads in Nazi-occupied Poland taking the form of a swastika - very clever!

The format definitely made it easier to read such harrowing content, but without detracting from it at all. I loved the scenes between father and son, where Art is frustrated by Vladek's constant scrimping and obstinate ways that have been caused by his past experiences. This has encouraged me to consider more graphic novels in the future - I certainly won't be discounting them, that's for sure!

* Jews were portrayed as mice (a reference to them being considered vermin by Nazi’s?) and were almost identical to one another; Nazi’s were therefore, naturally, cats; and gentile Poles were shown as pigs (non-Kosher). Further along we see Americans as dogs (perhaps a hound Dog?) and the Brits are fish (perhaps a reference to our love of fish and chips or us being seen as “wet fish”).


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