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Review: Art Spiegelman, THE COMPLETE MAUS

Called "the first masterpiece in comic book history" (the New Yorker), a winner of a Pulitzer prize, this is one of the most moving books I've ever read.

"An epic story told in tiny pictures" (the New Yorker), Maus tells the story of Vladik Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler's Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father's story. Vladek's harrowing narrative is woven into the author's account of his relationship with his aging father. Combining two books in one volume -- My Father Bleeds History and And Here My Troubles Began, it illuminates not only the impact of the Holocaust on survivors, but also the ways it has affected the children of such survivors. It also reveals a harrowing statistic: in countless cases, a survivor was the only member of his or her family, often a large, extended family, to survive the Holocaust.

The comic strips in the book represent different populations in animal form. The Jews are mice, reflecting the Nazis' view of them as "vermin," while Germans, especially Nazis, are cats, i.e., state=sponsored "exterminators" of the "vermin." (And the representation of Jews as tiny mice also reflects the persecutions and pogroms they have suffered down the ages at the hands of much larger groups directed by powerful, wealthy special interests. The Poles are pigs, Americans are dogs, and so on. (None of these animals conform to the kosher food laws, by the way, but neither do human beings, so this is no insult to mice).

I remember seeing excerpts from this work in the comix I loved so much, the ones that also included the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Fat Freddy's cat, and all the rest. But never before had I read the whole work. Doing so now, I wept over it many times, seeing the soul of a man laid bare by his son, who in turn bares his own soul, both souls wounded by the Holocaust in two different ways. If a reader doesn't weep while reading this, he or she has no heart, no empathy, no conscience.

The author deals with his material in a totally honest, simple way, laying bare one history's greatest horrors so that the generations to come will never, ever forget, and always be aware that true evil is a reality which psychology and psychiatry both find nearly impenetrable. Dos Passos said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat. And don't think it only happens to Jews: Hitler's Germany also murdered many Christians, Slavs, and Gypsies -- not to mention Germans with a conscience who tried to stand up to the Nazis and met their deaths in the horror-shows that were the cell's in the Gestapo's dungeons.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 18th, 2016 03:00 am (UTC)
This is a gut-wrenching work of honesty and thoughtfulness. It literally changed my perspective on human nature when I read it. Absolutely deserves all the accolades it has received.

A timely reminder of the vast horrors our species can embrace.

Oct. 18th, 2016 11:41 pm (UTC)
This first came out when I was in high school. I remember another girl on the bus and I talking about it after we read it. I read the second book many years later. It is so many things..... Disturbing, heartwrenching, but also hopeful.
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Yael Dragwyla

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