This book is gripping, devastating, and emotional. It’s also incredibly popular, as it is a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel. It’s also the subject of book bans, which in turn brought it back to the top of many a library queue (because book people are the best people). It’s a true story, as told from memory and tape recorded conversations between the author and his father, a survivor of Auschwitz. As a child, I was really interested in literature about the Holocaust, which I can imagine a lot of us can relate to. I am very, very late to reading Maus, in part because I have generally been wary of graphic novels (for reasons I’m not sure I could easily articulate, although I think it’s snobbery on my part and something I’ve been working to move past personally, even though I highly encourage graphic novel reading for lots of other people in my life) (for more reading about the Holocaust, book bans, and graphic novels try this article. I am glad I have finally had the opportunity to read this book, and I’m glad that with the popularity of graphic novels for kids there is a great chance that this book will resonate with many youngish readers. I would absolutely consider this to be be appropriate material for high school students, and many middle school students would probably also be able to handle the more mature content. It is a novel that is about war, genocide, and violence, and also about the relationship between a father and son. The most disturbing parts are true, and it is so important for us to carry these stories into the future if we have any hope of preventing another atrocity like this from occurring again.
The story famously depicts Jewish people as mice, and Germans who are not Jewish as cats. People from Poland who are not Jewish are depicted as pigs, and a few other nationalities are also included as different animals. This visual shorthand allows the reader to understand the words spoken between the characters, and gives us an important frame of reference in a novel that is about racially motivated hate crimes. Spiegelman interviewed his father, depicted here as a rather cantankerous older man with miserly tendencies in his present day, but also a survivor of great ingenuity who made it through the worst treatment through sheer luck. If you’ve consumed any media about the Holocaust, the events themselves are not surprising, but they are truly evil and therefore never NOT shocking. The elder Spiegelman, Vladek, was married to a woman, Anja, of considerable wealth, and yet that money could not protect her entire family from the force of a state that did not see value in their lives. The graphics go back and forth between the framing timeline in the 1980s as the author has conversations with his aging father (and experiences the frustration of caring for him and hearing about his contentious relationship with his current wife, Mala) and Vladek’s experience before, during, and shortly after his interment.
A previous review of this book on CBR mentioned that you should take your time in reading – it’s quite easy to fly through a graphic novel, but I fully agree that it’s best to go back and appreciate the many details layered in the images and words. It’s challenging to read this and be aware that it is real, these things happened. Humans are just fucking heartbreaking.