Art Spiegelman's Maus is an extraordinary novel which depicts the horror and grueling life led by a Jewish man during the years of the holocaust. Covering the time of freedom, to the rise of the Nazis, to the forced move to the ghettos, to hiding from the Germans, then ultimately the ushering into Auschwitz, the novel covers a time span of about five years of fright, uncertainty, and the inability to know if you would wake up the next day or not.
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Written in the 1980's, and looking back at the 1940's, we hear a narrative by Vladek - Art Spiegelman's father - as he tells his son about the years in Poland leading up to his fate in Auschwitz. He tells his son about the total disregard for human souls by the German soldiers, the terrible living conditions, the inability to live without strict rules, the tiny availability of food, the physically grueling workload being demanded of him and his cohorts, the rampant spread of disease, and the terrible visions of charred corpses and dying people all around him.
Besides the terrible images painted of Auschwitz, Spiegelman's novel also gives way to his personal life, as he writes about what is occurring during the time he is crafting the story. Written over a period of fourteen years, Maus not only talks about Nazi Germany and concentration camps, but also about Vladek's current life, Art's current relationship with his father, and various issues within the family that don't really have much to do with the holocaust. I find this to be an enjoyably little escape from the constant sadness and helplessness being depicted by the story at hand.
Maus can be viewed as not only a historical account of one man's experience during the holocaust, but also as a story of love. Vladek was separated by his wife, Anja, when entering Auschwitz, and throughout his capture he displays undisputed resiliency and discipline in an attempt to see his wife and keep her safe and alive. Such a large chunk of the story is dedicated to the love between Vladek and Anja that it is a refreshing change in pace in comparison to other holocaust accounts - which mostly focus on the sheer disgustingness of the event. While Maus certainly has a heavy emphasis on this theme, it is refreshing to read about feelings and events which many other readers can associate with, such as the fear of losing a loved one.
The novel is graphic - literally. Written as a drawn-out comic strip, Jewish characters are depicted as mice with speech bubbles drawn above their heads. Nazis and anti-Semitic people are drawn as pigs, and various other characters are drawn as dogs or frogs. These depictions allow Spiegelman to depict characters in a certain light, and it is a comment on the dehumanization which the Jewish people were forced to undergo during the 1940's. I personally found that the cartoon drawings helped keep track of the characters - many of whom have similar names - and allowed to storyline to be followed more easily.
I will be the first to admit that Maus truly shook me up inside. The development of Vladek, Anja, and of course Art himself made me sympathetic to the situations being described. Though there were various comedic parts of the novel here and there, the majority of it is very depressing and serious. Nonetheless, I found it to be a more profound way of depicting the events of the holocaust than other books, which stemmed from a combination of the comic-like organization, as well as the focus on just one person and his struggles throughout his heartbreaking life.
The novel is not hard to read, but it certainly involves some concentration and peace and quiet to fully appreciate. I found almost all parts to be absolutely captivating, and by the end of the novel I felt so deeply impacted that I would have to take breaks from reading just to keep myself from getting overwhelmed by the sad state which was being drawn out in front of me. Nonetheless, I would certainly recommend the novel to anyone who may want another perspective on life. You may just find it with Art Spiegelman's Maus.