(Author: Art Spiegelman) + (Year: 1986) + (Goodreads)
I first heard about this book in my History of Political Film class last year, after we watched the actual videos of the Nazi propaganda about Jews being vermin. Since then I have wanted to read the graphic novel and see the approach of the artist toward the issue.
It would be hard to say that Maus is not an influential book. It presents the viewpoint of a survivor from the Holocaust in nothing less than original medium. While I was reading Maus, I realized that I have watched many movies about the hardships of the Jews during the Holocaust, but that I haven’t actually read any books about it. I was really impressed by the simple but terrifying narrative of this book.
What is more, the characters in Maus are very realistic. The author doesn’t try to sugarcoat their personalities in order to manipulate the emotions of the readers. Neither Art, nor his father, or any of the other characters that come and go, are perfect. In fact, they are all hard to like, in one way or another. That doesn’t diminish the tragedy that they suffered, it just makes them as human as the rest of us, and shows that no one has the privilege of being safe under the threat of tyranny.
That being said, I will return back to the two main characters, Art and Vladek. To Vladek I had more sympathy, because in the present he is a old man and a lot of his bad traits could have come with age and suffering. But Art is intolerable. He is mean, rude, and he really doesn’t seem to care about what his parents went through. He is just greedy, overly eager to take this story from his father and profit from it. During every scene where he was present, I had a strong urge to cringe by how bad of a person and of a son he is.
From a moral point of view, everything about this book if bothersome. The entire history of the Holocaust is atrocious. That much should be universally clear.
From artistic point of view, there was one thing that bothered me about Maus, and that is the depiction of Poles. As far as the literal depiction of them as pigs (which are considered unclean [non-kosher] in Jewish culture), I understand that the author used the way Nazis referred to Poles as “swine”. However, even if we dismiss that, because the author used the same metaphor in depicting Jews as mice, the author does his best to present Poles as traitors and people who only helped the Jews to gain from it. Even if some of them did so, let’s not forget that there were also Jewish law enforcers whose job was to give other Jews to the Nazis. A large number of Poles aided the hiding and protection of Jews, and were detained, sent to labour camps, or executed for it. As well as the fact that if up to 6 million Jews died in concentration camps, so did about 2 million Poles (a large number of the Polish people I know have had relatives in concentration camps, too). I don’t want to be misunderstood. I do not, in any way, want to make the horror that happened to the Jews seem any smaller. However, I do not think that the artistic choice of representation of the nationality/ethnic group that suffered the most after Jews is fair in Maus.