Summary: The graphic novel tells of the author’s father, Vladek Spigelman’s experience as a Jew during the World War II era. Vladek’s experiences show the kind of pain one is accustomed to hearing about during the War. However, he always has moments of joy- intimate moments which the reader is also able to bask in as Vladek’s personal narration (with his charming grasp of the English language) introduces you to the workings of his life and family. The young Vladek was infinitely resourceful, always sharp-minded, and mindful of the people around him- tools that allowed him to survive the Holocaust. But the book also touches on the topic that vitality during the Holocaust was not black and white. People who die didn’t “lose”- situations oftentimes came down to bad luck, and people who survived didn’t “win”- while some, like Vladek, were able to survive of their own doing, at the end of the day, it also depended very much on luck and winning didn’t grant them anything- in fact, I’m sure they would wish the whole “game” had never taken place. Yet between his re-tellings, the author also presents his own moments with the now present, embittered Vladek, who is very similar to caricatures of the “cheap Jew” stereotype. The two Vladeks shown act as a foil against each other, and leave the reader wondering just what must have changed between the era after the war that would have caused Vladek’s beloved wife Anja to suicide and Vladek to morph. The novel is blissfully honest, and the art that it is presented with
has its own distinct life. Surprisingly, the cartoon does not take from the story- instead it embraces it to lure the reader into the cold world of World War II Eastern Europe.
Why I picked it up: I’ve always been intrigued by the two World Wars and when I was filing away books for the school library I came across Maus. At first, I thought it was a joke when I saw the cover- a swastika flag with two mice cowering before it. I opened it up only to see pictures of Nazi cats chasing after Jewish mice… it definitely must have been a joke novel. I then jokingly asked the librarian if I could read it for my book report and she said yes- in fact, it was a Pulitzer prize winner! After hearing that, the possibility it might have been a serious novel was too much so I actually did end up checking it out.
Why I kept reading it: Because it was good! Some scenes were a bit dull but chapters were never too long, the art was amazing in its own way, the story inspirational, and the honesty presented in such a well-known book was a major relief and pleasure to read.
Who would I give it to next: Someone mature enough to understand the story behind the art, and who has an open mind about sensitive race-related topics. Someone who wants to read an easy-to-read novel about the Holocaust who has already read Elie Wiesel’s Night.
Reviewed by Lora L.