Image Credit: nexternal
A review has long been on the anvil but I didn’t get time until now to actually pen my thoughts. I had finished reading The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman around two weeks ago but with a new job and Mandarin classes, things got a bit busy. But Maus is not a book that’s easy to forget. This Pulitzer Prize winning book is the story of the author’s father, a Holocaust survivor, who recounts his experiences. Here is the summary from the book jacket –
It is the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity…
There are many things to love in Maus. First of all it has multiple stories within it. Apart from the obvious war theme, Maus is an exploration into the human psyche. The will to survive and the inclination to kill and feelings of guilt and anger within oneself that bubble over threatening to burst but many times never do. It also examines relationships – between father and son, mother and son, Jews and non-Jews, prisoners and im-prisoners and just between stranger and stranger. Human behavior is as much a theme as the Holocaust.
Vladek’s behavior for one, is forever changed by the war. At one point he tells Art,
“Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t obsessed with this stuff…it’s just that sometimes I fantasize Zyklon B (the gas that the Nazis used) coming out of our shower instead of water.”
Even otherwise a careful man, the war tilts this quality in him to the other extreme. He hesitates to spend money to get the chimney cleaned, preferring to do it himself, did not buy his new wife some new clothes and would not even throw out a broken plate instead gluing it back. The fear of being hungry and penniless had gotten through to his soul, creating a well there that would never be filled.
While recounting his father’s experiences, Spiegelman also elaborates on his own experiences while staying with his father. Their incompatibility is a big irritant for Spiegelman who feels suffocated. He is not a bad son but he cannot relate to his father’s penurious actions, which makes him frustrated. Spiegelman also voices his own self-doubts while writing the book. “I feel so inadequate trying to reconstruct a reality that was worse than my darkest dreams. And trying to do it as a comic strip!...Maybe I ought to forget the whole thing.”
Most interesting of all, Spiegelman answers an interesting question perhaps we all have asked ourselves. Why didn’t the Jews fight back? They had numbers, solidarity and the united will to escape. Spiegelman’s father says that it was not easy.
“Everyone was so starving and frightened, and tired they couldn’t believe even what’s in front of their eyes. And the Jews lived always with hope. They hoped the Russians can come before the German bullet arrived from the gun into their head…In some spots people did fight… But you can kill maybe one German before they kill fast a hundred from you.”
Spiegelman’s writing style is of course quite simple and the narrative is needless to say extremely interesting. This is the graphic novel at one of its most powerful bests that takes the proverbial cat and mouse game to a whole new level. A game not to be missed. Last but not the least, thanks to fellow blogger Vishy for lending me this amazing book.
Verdict: Gripping. Insightful. Interesting.