Published by Pantheon Books on 01 November 2011
Genres: Adult, Graphic Novel, Historical
Place(s) Traveled to: Czechoslovakia (1935-1937) // Lubin, Poland (1940) // Oswiecim, Poland (1944) // Sosnowiec, Poland (1935-1944) //
First Line(s): It was summer, I remember.
Maus I by Art Spiegelman is one of those books that has always been just there off to the side waiting for me to read. Its a book that has been recommended to me dozens of times but one that I’ve always found hard to pick up. Any book that deals with the Holocaust is hard to pick up. And one where all the characters are drawn like mice just adds a bit of weirdness to it all. But it is also a perfect way to depict this story and I can’t imagine it any other way. Maus I is the start of the journey of Art Spiegelman’s parents. Its the story of how they met and fell in love. Its the story of how their idyllic world slowly changed and crumbled before their eyes as the Germans came into power. Its the story of the tough choices that had to be made and how somehow they found a way to survive.
Maus I is a quick read, made quicker as its a graphic novel and so pictures in stead of long descriptive paragraphs are used. As the old saying goes, a picture says a thousand words and this is the case with this story. As Maus I begins you know what is coming for the Vladek and Anja and you try not to care about them. Not because they are cruel people because you know that it will hurt more if you do. Yet despite what you tell yourself you fall for all the people that you meet in this story. Its impossible not to. Maus I is a simple story and Spiegelman tells it in a very straight forward way. He doesn’t go into long segues on the history of the time and that is both a blessing and a curse for the story. Because in order to truly appreciate some of what happens you need to have a basic understand of what was happening in Europe during WWII and the chain of events leading up to it.
When I checked Maus I out of the library I had also checked out its sequel, Maus II, which is the story of Vladek and Anja in the camps. I fully intended to jump from one volume to the next and read it all at once. However, when I finished Maus I I was unable to do that. I wasn’t ready to see just how bad tings might get for Vladek and Anja. I wasn’t ready to face just how horrible humans can be to other humans…even when these humans are pictured as cat and mice. For me, its hard to reflect back on this time knowing all that I know from the history books and from the few stories that my grandfather and his brothers have told of their time serving during the war. I used to love their stories when I was younger as they were never about the horrors that they might have witnessed. They always told these fun little antidotes like the time when my grandfather and great-uncle Jack bumped into each other unexpectedly in the Philippines. Both in different units doing different things for the Army and not expecting to see each other until they were sent back home. They have a picture of that day and it always makes me smile.
Holocaust stories also make me think of the stories that I heard about when I was visiting my family in Poland a few years back. These stories are more like that depicted in Maus I. They were invaded and suppressed by the Germans. The only real thing going for them was that they were not Jewish. They could have just sat back and toed the line and made it through the war unscathed. But they didn’t and they did what they could to help the Jews and spy on the Germans and they suffered consequences as a result. Yet they never gave up and kept doing what they thought was right. So, for me, when I read a story on the Holocaust story all these thoughts and emotions come swirling up inside and makes the stories all the more real.
Maus I is a good story and one that I think is important for others to read. And one day I will check Maus II out and manage to read that one because Holocaust stories are important to read and learn about. The further we get from when these events happened the more important it is to remember them. The more we remember the less likely we will be to repeat this horrors.