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The Curious Curator's Book Blog

Contemporary art curator. Student. Book addict. Art lover. Geek. Dreamer. Curious about everything. Check out my website http://thecuriouscurator.com/

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Mathieu Triclot

Maus: A Survivor's Tale

The Complete Maus - Art Spiegelman

Personal tales of survival from the Nazi concentration camps have appeared everywhere in literature. Historians have been able to piece together the reality of the war, of Auschwitz, Dachau and the other camps, of the horrors that went on, of the suffering that people went through. And still, for me, they continue to be incredible.

 

Like I said when reviewing Primo Levi's If This Is a Man / The Truce, these stories interest me because I can't bring myself to understand why things happened the way they did, and how it is possible for human beings to convince themselves that they need to exterminate other human beings as if they were vermin. This is the first striking thing about this book - the powerful visual metaphor the author uses with humans being depicted as animals. The Jews are represented by mice, which works really well to show just exactly how the others viewed them - as lesser, disgusting beings that should be eradicated. As a natural consequence, Germans are portrayed as cats (though I have to say I wasn't too happy about that, since I'm a cat person). Non-Jewish Poles are portrayed as pigs, Americans as dogs. It adds a whole different dimension to the story, since we see them as they saw each other - different categories of species.

 

And yet, this is more than a memoir in the form of graphic novel. It also explores the dynamic between father and child, the ambivalence of the author towards his parents, whom he both loves and resents, and the way he comes to terms with the history of his family, including feeling guilty for having had everything too easily compared to them, and feeling that his own life story could never come close to that of his parents. It also explains how difficult it was for Mr. Spiegelman to grasp the true meaning of what their parents went through, and his efforts to tell the story we are reading.

 

The artwork is simple but poignant, and the animal metaphor quickly disappears into the story, which makes it even more piercing when we see real photographs of the people depicted throughout the book. The photograph of the author's father wearing the prisoner's garments is especially touching.

 

For me, this was different from other Holocaust memoirs I've read, not only because it's in graphic novel form, but also because it's told in the point of view of someone who isn't a survivor, but a descendant, and so can explore the effect that the Holocaust had on those few who survived it. Surviving it wasn't enough. These events affected profoundly whole countries and whole generations of people.

 

A must-read classic, and deservedly so.