Since I first got into graphic novels some years ago, this has been on my list to read. “Maus” by Art Spiegelman became the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. When I saw a copy during a recent handover shindig at Book Passion here in Canberra, I knew I had to have it.
“Maus” by Art Spiegelman is recounts the story of Spiegelman’s father Vladek’s life in Poland as a Jewish man before and during the World War II Holocaust. The graphic novel is a frame story split between two timelines. There is the present, where Spiegelman is recording his father’s memories and struggling with their difficult relationship and Vladek’s declining health and mental state. Then there is the past, when Vladek was a young and resourceful man who survived Auschwitz with a combination of luck and ingenuity.
This is really a standout example of the graphic novel medium. Although this genre still cops a lot of flak for being childish, this is a very serious graphic novel and the illustrations in “Maus” are deceptively simple. Jewish people are represented by mice and Nazis are represented by cats, and there are all kinds of inferences that can be drawn from that – everything from Mickey Mouse propaganda, the idea that Jewish people were considered ‘vermin’ and the obvious power differential. Another example is all the Ss drawn to look like the lightening symbols of the SS. It’s a story of tragedy, it’s a story of strength and it’s a story of trauma. While his father battles the demons of his experiences, Art battles spectres of a past that wasn’t his but impacted his life nevertheless.
I think that if you’ve never read a graphic novel before, then this would be a perfect place to start. If you’ve never read THIS graphic novel before, then you need to add it to your list. It is an evocative and painful reminder of how important it is to not fall prey to the temptation to make scapegoats.