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Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman

Maus is one of the most unusual stories you will ever read.  It is the true story of a Holocaust survivor, Vladek, as told by Art Spiegelman, his son. Just these facts should entice most readers to pick up Maus - Holocaust stories are often rich with courage, inspiration, and sacrifice.  But Spiegelman goes further. 

Spiegelman dares to tell the story in a comic book.  He also portrays all of the characters as animals.  Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Americans are dogs, and so on.

Apart from the comic book format and the animal characters, another special aspect of the book is how the story unfolds in flashbacks.  Much of the dialogue takes place between the author and his father around the kitchen or dinner room table.  Then the reader is continuously transported along Vladek's perilous journey that eventually leads to Auschwitz.  

As we picture Vladek telling us his story, Spiegalman weaves yet another tale - that of the strained relationship between him and his father.   Vladek is in fact two different characters throughout the books.  During the Holocaust he is a courageous and inspiring presence.  Afterwards he is the author's intolerable, widowed father living in retirement.  

So in no small part Maus is Spiegelman's search for the many influences in his life - an overbearing father, a writer's struggle to tell a story, and the death of his mother when he was a teenager, among many other things.

Spiegelman brings many of these elements together just as he is wrapping up the first book.  He recounts the unfortunate discovery that Vladek had destroyed his late wife's diaries - a discovery crucial to the writing of Maus.

Spiegelman:  Christ!  You save tons of worthless shit and you ...

Vladek:  Yes, it's a shame!  For years they were laying there and nobody looked in.

Spiegelman:  Did you ever read any of them?  Do you remember what she wrote?

Vladek:  No, I looked in but I don't remember...only I know that she said, "I wish my son, when he grows up, he will be interested in this."

Spiegelman:  God damn you!  You - you murderer!  How the hell could you do such a thing!!

Like any true life, Maus is multifaceted.  Of course, a great part of it is gripping because of the incredible circumstances and choices that every Holocaust victim experienced.  The metaphor of the cats and dogs is subtle and tricky at the same time.  And there are - as in any life - moments of good humor.

One such moment is when the generation gap is closed, if only for a brief moment, when Vladek admits his hopes for Spiegleman's work in progress.

Vladek:  Someday you'll be famous, like...what's-his-name?

Spiegelman:  Huh?  "Famous like what's-his-name?!"

Vladek:  You know...the big-shot cartoonist...

Spiegelman:  What cartoonist could you know...Walt Disney?

Vladek:  Yah!  Walt Disney...(as Spiegelman walks away)  Wait!  Where do you go, Artie?

Spiegelman:  To get a pencil...I just gotta write this conversation down, before I forget it!

Every page of Maus reveals countless extraordinary lives touched by the Holocaust.  In reviewing the two books, I ran across stories that awed me yet again eight years after first reading them.

In telling such a special story, Spiegelman's Maus was recognized as one of the best books in 1992, winning a special Pulitzer Prize that year. So make it the first comic you have read in years.  Once you read Maus, you will understand what a uniquely powerful story it tells.

 

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Thanks for looking around ideas and events.com.  Just don't stop there.  There is much more to see and read.  We have Osama Bin Laden in Thoughts on the News, the ever popular The Parachute on my Back, and the strange mix of our first video picks - Memento, Fall, and Party Girl.

 

Posted Saturday December 1, 2001.

Updated Sunday June 20, 2004.