Cannonball Read #6: Maus

Maus (Parts I and II) by Art Spiegelman presents the Holocaust in what seems like a very modern, metaphysical way: through graphic novel that depicts his father's experiences of the Holocaust, contemporary experiences between Spiegelman and his father, and later how Spiegelman is dealing with the success of Part I of the novel itself (in Part II). It's as much a novel about creating the book as the recording the horrors of 30s/40s Europe.

What's odd about reading this book is that it could feel very trite. The Jews are depicted with mouse heads on human bodies, the Germans with cat heads, the Polish with pig, French with frog, American with dog. But it works, and adds a layer of (mostly) unspoken metaphor. In some ways the drawings make things easier to digest, but what's most odd is that seeing cartoon drawings of people with mouse heads being tortured and killed is so disturbing. For something so stylized to be so moving is probably because we know these things happened and we know that the author's own father is telling first hand accounts in this novel.

And I think it also has something to do with seeing Spiegelman's father depicted as a demanding old man. Certainly, conclusions could be made as to why he's so cheap and immortalizes his first wife while driving his current one crazy, but he's never depicted as extraordinary. He survived the Holocaust, but he's almost just an annoyance to his son. This element, trying to understand and deal with your parents, is universal and gives a reader with no connection to the Holocaust or Jewish culture something to relate to. And I think that's where the real genius of the book lies: it contrasts the relatable present to an unbelievable and horrifying past. How could something so terrible have happened to such an ordinary old man? To your parents? And what are you supposed to do with that history?

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