Maus 1: A Survivor’s Tale, My Father Bleeds History – Art Spiegelman

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This graphic novel was mind blowing and captured the cruel and brutal years of the Second World War. No matter what I read about this period I am always learning something new and horrifying. Maus tells the story of Vladek’s life in Poland from the mid 1930’s until 1944. Vladek is based on Spiegelman’s father and the plot is laid out as Artie visits his father to learn more about this time period whilst creating the novel. Very early on I wanted to know if this was based on Art Spiegelman’s parents and their time under Nazi occupation and after finding this out it makes it all too verified and all the more realistic. I always find books based around this time period difficult to read as it almost seems imaginary that this actually happened and so many people suffered for so long.

The people in the retelling are depicted as animals rather than people. It is interesting as in many ways it shows the people as they saw each other, not as fellow human beings deserving of life but as animals with little value to each other or at different levels on the ‘food chain’. Jewish people are depicted as mice whilst the Nazi’s are depicted as cats, a very strong and obvious metaphor but interestingly the fellow Polish people are depicted as pigs. I’m not entirely sure what this means or what Art Spiegelman meant by this but it is an interesting depiction of the people in this time. This being said, there is an unusual scene where Vladek and his wife are hiding in a cellar and she is afraid of the rats around her feet, despite the fact she is depicted as a mouse.

Vladek Spiegelman comes across immediately as a scarred man, someone who is stern, set in his ways and wise yet confident of his knowledge. It is apparent from the beginning that Artie and his father don’t have a great relationship and throughout the book it seems tense and at many points ready to erupt. However as Vladek talks about his life in Poland and the worsening conditions under the Nazi’s, he and Artie are at Peace.

I found this retelling particularly interesting because it was a true depiction of Vladek’s life throughout the Nazi occupation but from a Polish background. The escalating terror and mistreatment he endured along with his family was emotional as not only was it upsetting that his family were going through so much but that all these events were true and real people suffered. When reading depictions like this I also wonder how many other families suffered like this and how something like this could have happened.

I read my first graphic novel last year and I found the illustrations amazing, the way that the plot of the story was there in front of you and exactly how the author had wanted you to see his world and creation. Maus was no exception, Art Spiegelman’s portrayal of the Nazi’s and the events of his father’s life at this time were hauntingly beautiful throughout the pages and it was impossible to escape the details as they lay there visually from page to page.

Not only will I be continuing with this series as there is another book, Maus 2: And Here My Troubles Began, I will also be looking into more of Art Spiegelmans work as he seems to be a very honest artist and writer. He portrayed his father as I believed very honestly and even his relationship with his father. I believe there are many different angles that this story could have been written from, however the end product seems very realistic of the entire situation from Artie hearing the story to the small ‘cut-scenes’ and conversations with his father. This is not just a book about the Nazi’s or the Second World War but also lays on the table a father and son relationship that I believe was difficult for both. It is clear that these experiences have affected a lot of people as this is just one story out of the many millions who suffered at the hands of the Nazis but in Maus, Vladek and his second wife Mala have a rocky relationship, whilst Vladek’s first wife, Arties mother suffered greatly from depression and Artie has been denied a supportive and comforting fatherly figure. It is easy to see that there is a huge emotional scar left with those who suffered primarily that can be carried down through the generations as I doubt these events or characteristics are coincidence.

This is a book I would definitely recommend, if you haven’t read a graphic novel before this is a great place to start. For those that have, continue loving this genre with this series. It has everything you could want in a plot whilst reminding the reader of the events of such a harrowing time in history. I gave Maus 1 a 5 out of 5 stars on goodreads as it is a novel that I will more than likely read again and a story that I cannot wait to continue.

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