Book of the Week: ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelmen

**Works inspired by the events of the Holocaust have always been the subject of much debate; can popular work inspired by such a horrific moment in human history ever legitimise its existence?**

From every film to every novel inspired by the events, the question has been raised; is it right to exploit such an event for the benefit of Hollywood box office or book sales? Should _Schindler’s List_ have been gleamed in Spielberg trademark schmaltz? Should _The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas_ have placed two children as its central protagonists? Surely this was just a way to wring greater emotional reaction out of its readers and later on cinema audiences?

Don’t get me wrong, John Boyne’s book is a sweetly innocent outlook on the Holocaust, and _Schindler’s List_ remains Spielberg’s most mature work. But out of all the work based on the Holocaust that I have experienced, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize winning Maus is perhaps the most unique and accessibly honest account of the events of the Jewish experience during the Second World War.

Completed in 1991, _Maus_ is a graphic novel that tells the tale of Spiegelman’s father’s (Vladek) life during the war, as he and his wife aim to avoid the detection of the S.S. Guards and the fate that will certainly befall them should they be placed in a Concentration Camp. All the while, the graphic novel frames Vladek’s story with Art and his relationship with his father in a contemporary setting, as he records his father’s stories as research for his new project Maus. He struggles with mixed feelings towards his father; a sense of both admiration and frustration. At the same time, he is faced with the dilemma on how best to express and portray his father’s tale in the graphic novel form. Well, he certainly found a way.

The most intriguing element of Spiegelman’s Maus is its post-modern style; presenting all of its characters in the form of different species of animals. The Jews are Mice, the Germans are Cats and non-Jewish Poles are Pigs. It is what makes the graphic novel unique and rather surreal in its style, with simplistic black and white imagery, yet it is also what makes this account of the Jewish Holocaust experience a much more accessible tale of human destruction and despair.

_Maus_ certainly does not hold back in terms of divulging into the darkest corners of the Jewish experience in the Holocaust. The framing of Art recording his father’s story presents the moral dilemma that Art has in how best to present this material, and also questioning as to whether he is worthy of telling this story. At the same time, he feels a moral obligation as both a son and an artist to tell this story for future generations, to ensure that his father’s tale is one that is both not forgotten by him and one that he believes should be shared.

_Maus_ manages to walk a fine line between a larger scope of a universal pain felt by a race of people and a very intimate personal tale of Vladek, one that you become fully invested in through the simple yet effective imagery. Spiegelman offers his fathers tale to us, yet it is not overly sympathetic towards his father, which adds another layer of guilt, as he feels he should feel nothing but respect for his father who has experienced such a traumatic moment in history, and come out reasonably clean on the other side.

Speigelman’s brutally honest and intimate portrayal told through an accessibly creative form constructs the most intimate account of a Holocaust experience that I have ever read/seen. Informative, post-modern and wonderfully self-aware with the moral crisis on how best to express such an event. Spiegelman is aware of the concern over the legitimisation of work of the Holocaust; his I believe has special exception. He is in a much better position than most authors of Holocaust texts; he is the second generation who has the responsibility to see his father’s history, no matter what the subject. He does so in a way that does not glorify his father or treat his experience as any form of heroics; he merely survived.

_Maus_ stands head and shoulders above most Holocaust texts, and also most graphic novels, for telling an important story in a refreshing and matter of fact style. This is a pivotal piece of work that should endure for generations to come.


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