Friday 12 August 2016
#CBR8 Book 81: "The Complete Maus" by Art Spiegelman
Rating: 4 stars
The two volumes of Maus are Art Spiegelman's attempts to document the struggles of his parents before and during the Second World War, as well as his not always harmonious relationship with his elderly father. The framing narrative shows Art interviewing his father Vladek about his recollections of the time before and during the war, as well as trying to deal with his temperamental parent, despite their many differences. The illustrations are famous and the subject matter is, of course, very worthy.
So why didn't I love it? It's a graphic novel depiction of the persecution of the Polish Jews and their trials during the Holocaust, which also deals with the difficult aftermath and the struggle of the survivors' offspring to understand the trials of their parents. Art wasn't born until after the war, always extremely aware of his elder brother, who died, even as his parents tried to save him by sending him away. His mother Anja seems to have been mentally fragile, even before the war, and committed suicide. His father Vladek remarried, but seems to have made strange demands of both his new wife Mala and his son, and doesn't exactly seem like the easiest of people to live with or relate to.
I really liked the historical parts that dealt with Art's parents' lives before and during the war. The framing narrative worked a lot less well for me, mainly because Vladek was such a pain! Moody, crotchety, mean to his second wife (and occasionally his son). At the same time, it seems as if the son could absolutely spend more time with his father NOT constantly badgering him to recall painful memories so said son can turn it into an award winning graphic novel - there's just a lot of people here who I don't particularly like, even though their lives have clearly been tough and full of suffering.
These two graphic novels, collected in the one volume I read, are hugely acclaimed and have won tons of awards (including the Pulitzer), so it doesn't really matter what I think, one way or another. I wanted to love this, but found a lot of it hard going to read, not mainly because of the depiction pre- and during the Holocaust, but because I just couldn't really connect with the main characters. The art is very well done (while some might say that the portrayal of the Jews as mice and the Germans/Nazis as cats is overly simple, the way other humans are depicted, like the non-Jewish Polish being pigs, or the Americans being dogs is clever, I think. I also loved that when the Jews were trying to pass for non-Jewish, they wore little pig-masks over their faces) and I recognise the importance of the work, but it really wasn't entirely my cup of tea.
Judging a book by its cover: The cover of this is as iconic as the book itself, with Spiegelman's parents as the mice and the swastika and stylised Hitler-face (the Nazis all being cats), looming in the background. The red splash of the heading, bringing to mind both spray paint and blood.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.