This book length poem almost has to be read out loud to get the full effect. Written in 1928, it is a fun jazz-age piece. The character’s are straight out of a gangster’s speakeasy: Queenie “was a blond, and her age stood still” and her lover Burrs was “A clown, Of renown: Three-sheeted all over town.” The plot is predicted by the title of the book, Queenie decides to throw a party and as the alcohol flows things get out of hand. Continue reading
Yeah, I just got done saying I rarely, if ever, re-read and here I am going back through a graphic novel I read in twelfth grade for a book report. We were handed a list of historical fiction to choose from and Maus stood out as being quite different from the others, which is why I chose it. Like the other time I was allowed to pick what I read for class and chose The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, I was quite pleased with my decision.
Yet I somehow skipped out on the second part since it didn’t sound the least bit familiar, and it was a drastic enough departure from the first that I would have remembered. In the first part, Art has his father tell him of what his life was like as a Jew during the years of Nazi Germany. We don’t just get the story itself, either. Everything about their interaction is recorded here, with Art not afraid to paint himself in a rather unflattering fashion.
The first part ends with him calling his father a murderer, one assumes for his, in a sense, letting Art’s mother kill herself, or at least not doing enough to stop her from going through with it. Then the second part begins with Art commenting on the success of the first part, the demand for a sequel, and the effect all the attention has had on him. It unlocked some of his own demons and he first had to do battle with them before continuing on.
Needless to say, this was an absurdly personal story for Art to tell. You could see it pained him to tell it as much as it hurt to read of his father’s experiences and Art’s cold attitude towards the miserly, bigoted man he’s become. Art, at one point in the second part, shows himself undergoing therapy, but Maus was his real therapy. He needed to unload and unpack this all somehow, and Mauswas just the form it took.
What’s his damage, you might ask? It’s all there, right on the page in its full, unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness like glory. Maus is as much about Art’s own hangups as it is what his father endured during the Holocaust, and both are relayed to the reader in a starkly blunt fashion that has no reservations whatsoever. Think of yourself like the therapist, or someone sitting in on one of the numerous therapy sessions he must’ve gone through.
In summation, if you’re after a dual autobiography/biography that’s beautifully, disturbingly matter-of-fact in its telling of the events, Maus is a must read. Art clearly didn’t write this with publication first in mind, so it’s unsurprisingly rough around the edges; however, it’s so refreshingly honest that, trust me, you won’t care.
– “Another holocaust story? Don’t we have enough of those?”
– “Making it about cats and mice? That seems trivializing…”
– “Why are so many literary graphic novels somewhat autobiographical? It’s self-indulgent.”
But what hasty assumptions to make without reading something first! I needed to see what this proclaimed “masterpiece” from the early 1990s was myself. Maus itself is not without some flaws and uncomfortable feelings, but it really exceeded my expectations, given the doubts seeded into my mind by some of the people around me. And yes, I’ll concede that maybe there are many tales of the holocaust out there, but aren’t there just as many (if not more) in every other genre? This graphic novel is clearly made for people who are interested in the subject. Without that interest, however, I could see why someone might just brush it aside, or read it at the most superficial and hasty levels (which I’m sure to get to).
The story of Maus itself is about a young author and artist, Art, asking his aging father, Vladek, about his life as a Jewish man during World War II, so that he can write a book about his parents’ experiences. Aha! The classic, “graphic novel memoir about the artist gaining acceptance by their parents for their work” story…I’ve seen this a few times before, and yes indeed, this is in fact about Art Spiegelman’s father himself. How Spiegelman chooses to represent his characters, however, is in the form of animals: Most notably, Jewish characters (even converted ones, like Art’s wife) are shown as mice, while Germans are represented by cats, native citizens of Poland as Pigs, and Americans as Dogs.
If you are interested, you can find out what I thought about it (in the most meandering of ways): HERE.