Anne-Sophie at UEA

An International Student of Literature in England.

Art Spiegelman’s The Complete Maus

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During last semester, a friend of mine studied this graphic novel for her course. I got really intrigued as I’d wanted to read more comics in a long time and love World War 2 stories. As soon as I started it, I couldn’t put the book down.

The thing with Maus is that it’s not just a story: it is a true story, and the events are told as they actually happened — or to be more precise, as the cartoonist’s father talked about his life.

The graphic novel is therefore presented as an embedded narrative: you actually see the cartoonist, Art Spiegelman, going to see his father and asking him about the war and his past.

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While the first part of Maus almost exclusively focuses on the father’s experiences, how he met his wife, how the nazis invaded Poland and how all the Jews ended up in concentration camps, the second part opens up the theme of guilt and collective memory. It starts with the cartoonist talking to his psychologist about guilt, and whether it’s right to make money (through Maus) over the Holocaust and people’s suffering.

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I really liked this idea and felt like it was new to WW2 narratives, since the cartoonist was born well after the war. Maus was written between the 1970s and 1980s, which means that the father had also been able to turn the page and accept the Holocaust. The second part also focused on the father’s health issues and the end of his life.

At first, I wasn’t a big fan of the drawing style but quickly loved it! Some of the pictures are really striking. The big thing about Maus is that the Jews are portrayed as mice, the Poles as pigs and the Germans as cats. This distinction is striking and communicates very well the feeling of belonging to a community as well as that of conflicts.

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It’s also a very faithful war narrative since it’s all based on the father’s story. You also get to hear about things and details they don’t usually mention in history books. He’s blunt and isn’t afraid to talk about disgusting and scary details to show the terrifying events he and Jews went through. 

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Maus was by far one of the best books I’ve ever read, thanks to the striking drawings and the feeling of proximity. The oral style makes it much more vivid and easy to read, which is something I also like. You don’t get to hear that kind of stories very often, unless you’re “lucky” enough to know war survivors who are still willing to talk about it. Maus was breathtaking. 

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