Newest Review: ... are drawn identically, only distinguishable by the clothes that they wear. It recounts his father, Vladek's tale from the time he m... more
A Game of Cat and MAUS
Maus - My Father Bleeds History/Here My Troubles Began - Art Spiegelman
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Maus - My Father Bleeds History/Here My Troubles Began - Art Spiegelman
Date: 30/06/03, updated on 20/09/03 (394 review reads)
Advantages: Powerful , Thought-provoking
Disadvantages: None, nada, zip
The Holocaust was...is...will forever remain, if not THE single most diabolical and depraved, cold-blooded and calculated act of perverted, bestial evil ever perpetrated by members of the human race, then at least it's probably the most infamous and best documented. And surely such a grotesque act could never occur again. But human nature being what it is, I'm sure that there's a snot-nosed, greasy little oik somewhere or other who at this very moment is pulling the wings from insects and dreaming of the pleasures that world domination would bring.
Of course, it could never happen again......could it? The Great War was the 'war to end all wars' and we've been virtually conflict-free ever since, apart from the odd skirmish here and there, and as for 'the war on terror' - well that's a raging success too.
TIP: Never over-estimate the intelligence of humans.
But enough of that, back to the systematic slaughter of the Jewish people - alongside countless millions of Gypsies, Poles, Russian pow's, communists, criminals, homosexuals, and a whole host of other 'untermensch'.
Wouldn't all that mindless horror be a great subject for a comic book featuring cats and mice - a bit like Tom & Jerry, or even Itchy & Scratchy, but not nearly so violent?
ART SPIEGELMAN, a veteran of the underground comics of the 60's and 70's certainly thought so.
He interviewed his father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor living in New York, about his experiences. He then skillfully transformed that story into a graphic novel. This he did by portraying a true story of the Holocaust in cartoon, and allegoric form - the Jews are portrayed as mice, the Germans as cats and the Poles as pigs.
Art is the narrator as he interviews his father, and uses juxtaposition to great effect with those terrible, past events mingling happily alongside current events - which involve the relationships with
Vladek and his son, and also with Mala, Vladek's second wife.
? THE PLOT ?
MAUS - A SURVIVOR'S TALE: MY FATHER BLEEDS HISTORY, introduces Vladek as a happy young man trying to get ahead in pre-war Poland. With outside events growing ever darker, we read about his marriage to Anja and his enlistment in the Polish army at the outbreak of the war. He suffers the indignities of life as a PoW before he somehow managing to gain his 'freedom'.
Re-united with his family, we then learn of their life in the ghetto, and their subsequent escape into hiding as the Final Solution is initiated. All through these events, friends and family members are slowly disappearing whilst Vladek and his wife manage to evade the Nazis until 1944.
The ending is stark, terrible and thoroughly depressing. But fear not, the worst is yet to come when they are sent to Auschwitz in the second volume.
? NOT THE PLOT ?
This isn't a comic book to be taken lightly. It's dark, disturbing and depressing - gritty, gruesome and grotesque. The artwork is fairly basic and it's in black and white which all adds to the overall, oppressive nature of the book.
The portrayal of the characters in animal form is, I think, masterful:
? The Jews are mice - defenceless, verminous prey who scurry around behind walls and in cellars, scraping and scavenging as best they can whilst always on guard against a cruel and aggressive predator. (One can't help thinking of the Nazi propaganda films depicting the Jews as rats).
? The Nazis are cats - self-satisfied, sadistic and smug. They like to catch their victims and play with them for a while, teasing and torturing before killing them - not for food, but for sheer wicked, unadulterated pleasure.
? The Poles are pigs - I don't think this is meant in any derogatory fashion. Polish anti-semitism is well documented but I can't say that in
book the Polish characters are portrayed badly - if anything, the opposite is true. The non-Jewish Poles that Vladek encounters are generally sympathetic and kind - although he has to pay for that kindness but as he says - "Ach, why would anyone be doing a favour and to risk their life for no return." Very pragmatic.
The book has won several literary awards including the 1986 National Book Critics Circle prize in biography, and in 1992, became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Spiegelman has received equal measures of praise (for making the events more accessible), and scorn (for over-simplifying the events). Yet Vladek's survival was anything but simple.
It's a quite amazing tale and makes me wonder if, under the same circumstances, I could have survived. Would I have had the fortitude and the survival instincts to endure the hunger, pain and suffering - or would I have taken the easy way out and committed suicide or went 'up the chimney'. There's a section in the book where Anja simply lays down in the street and tells Vladek, "Oh God, Let me die too!" He proceeds to pull her up and tells her, " To die, it's easy...but you have to struggle for life!"
I think that the way the story is presented (in cartoon form) actually increases the impact of the Holocaust. We've all seen the newsreels, the photographs and the movies, graphically depicting the horror - and read shocking prose describing the barbarism just as sickeningly. But it can be easy to become rather blasé to these events, so anything that sparks renewed interest is a good thing.
Lest we forget.
I can't say this is the best graphic novel I've ever read, I can't even say it's the best novel concerning The Holocaust I've come across, but as a graphic novel dealing with the personal tragedy of Nazi persecution...it has no equal.
* My thanks to the palaverous and prolixic, deliciously loquacious, Jillmurphy, and her excellent review of Maus, for reminding me just what a great book this is.
** You can read about my visit to Auschwitz by goiing to my profile page...it's the previous review to this.
Thanks for reading
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