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Maus I, A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

mausI have heard about this book for years, and am glad I finally picked it up.

Art Spiegelman’s father was a survivor of Auschwitz. Subtitled (excellently) “My Father Bleeds History,” this book tells the elder Spiegelman’s story, as told to Art, complete with the dialog between father and son that constitutes Art’s research. The action therefore switches back and forth between late-twentieth-century New York City and 1930’s Poland. The father-and-son interview portions are humorous, although with a sad note: Vladek Spiegelman is unhappily married following the suicide of his first wife (Art’s mother), Anja. The flashback parts are, naturally, disturbing, as they tell the story of Polish Jews as Nazi Germany pushed into Poland.

There is also a love story, that of Anja and Vladek, and the family story of Art and Vladek, father and son, getting to know one another and setting boundaries (as in the question of calling in the middle of the night about fixing downspouts). As Art himself laments, Vladek makes for quite a stereotypical – or racist – image of an older Jewish man: he is stingy with his money, manipulates his son using guilt, and speaks in a broken English dialect that I found quite charming, actually. But the story itself is killer, of course. There is a part II, and why do I not already have it here in my hands?

I am no connoisseur of comic (or cartoon?) art (I don’t even know what to call it). I will say that the art is fine, good: lots of black, easy to read (remarkably easy to read – I don’t do many graphic novels, and this one flew by). Spiegelman plays with symbols by making Jews mice, the Nazis cats, and non-Jewish Poles pigs. When the Jews try to blend in with Polish society after they have been removed, they wear pig masks over their mouse faces.

I was reminded of Alison Bechdel, most obviously because of the graphic format, yes, but it doesn’t stop there: Are You My Mother? also dealt with a parent, and framed the parent’s story with the interview process (and the familial tensions that came with it). That framing, that in-and-out of the story by way of the interviews, was familiar, and it’s a technique I like.

I have a feeling that there is quite a bit here to be studied from a more academic angle. I raced through this read in a quick evening, and it probably deserves more time & attention, but I need guidance. Happily, I have not only Maus II to look forward to, but MetaMaus (if I can find it?) with background material. Stay tuned.

Any graphic format fans out there? What have you enjoyed?


Rating: 9 chandeliers.

5 Responses

  1. I remember when Maus first came out. It was a little black and white insert that came in a big fancy high-end comic magazine. I no longer remember the name of the magazine, but it was obvious from the first that the little black and white insert was the part that would be remembered.

    I never read the later books, and actively avoided his book about 9/11, but I remember the original Maus quite fondly.

    I was a big fan of Bechdel’s strip Dykes to Watch Out For, but I haven’t read her book. I imagine I will,but not this year (my mother passed away in August, so it will be a while before I’m ready for a book about a mother).

    • I didn’t know he had a book about 9/11. But I expect to learn a lot from MetaMaus. Will let you know!

      Sorry about your mother. And I can understand that reaction. Bechdel’s Fun Home is about dad instead – have you read that one? It’s on my shelf.

  2. […] with Maus I and Maus II. And then move on to MetaMaus, filled with images from the book and discussions with […]

  3. […] of graphic novels/graphic works in the world, although I have dearly loved some (Alison Bechdel, the Maus series). But I’m not precisely a connoisseur. And this one claims to be more classic […]

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