A genuine story of a story, about how a son(the author) discovers all the details of his father’s life in the concentration camps, while dealing with his tiring behavior and stubborn way of thinking. This is not just a story about Holocaust, it’s a story about empathy or lack of empathy, the struggle to understand one’s past and about “growing up”, learning how reality works, or worked.
The story revolves around the relationship between Artie and his father, Vladek, a survivor of the Holocaust. Artie is the author himself, Art Spiegelman, who writes this graphic novel as a retelling of his talks with his father about how his family survived.
Artie struggles to understand his roots, his parents’ past, but also to find out more about the brother he didn’t met, who died during World War II. He feels guilty that he has such a easy life, that he sometimes even complains about, while his parents and dead brother had to endure so much.
The story told by the father revolves around the themes of family, survival, racism, faith , betrayal and, last but not least, luck. There were moments, recounts Vladek, when him and his wife Anja had to plan out different strategies to survive, but they were also lucky. I don’t want to go into much detail, so I don’t spoil the story, but if it wouldn’t have been for that or the other member of the family, or a past neighbour or an old acquaintance, they might not have survived.
I think that one major theme of the story is family. There is a clear difference between what family meant before the war, in the old days, and what it means nowadays, when Vladek is old. There are no more members of the extended family to show up and help when it is needed, they died or survived and, as Artie’s parents, made a new life in the U.S., far away from the places where they suffered. There is also a lack of communication in Artie’s family now. With his mother gone, and his father’s personality being a little bit…intense, Artie doesn’t visit very often, even though the old man insists.
Prejudice comes in different forms in this story: the obvious racism of the nazi soldiers, but also the prejudices that Vladek Spiegelman has about other cultures, in spite being himself a victim of preconception. It’s ironic, but it also shows a complex character, and the author’s decision not to sugar-coat reality.
The art style is innocent, I could say, Spiegelman representing the Jews as mice, Germans as cats and non-Jewish Polish citizens as pigs. But the black and white minimalist graphics work because they don’t distract you from the important part: the well-structured narrative.
It’s a touching story, but it also has funny moments, the pace of the book keeping the reader interested from start to finish. You can easily read Maus in one sitting, if you don’t have exams/don’t have to deal with the real world. I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it yet.
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