MAUS Volumes #1-2 by Art Spiegelman
originally published in 1986
I feel like anything I could say about this book is going to sound woefully inadequate, but I guess I’ll give it a shot anyway. Maus had obviously been on my radar for ages as a critical piece of Holocaust literature as well as being the only graphic novel to ever win the Pulitzer Prize, so I was certainly expecting it to be good, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how utterly harrowing of a read this ended up being. And again, yes, I did know that its subject matter was the Holocaust, but I also knew that Spiegelman made the famous stylistic decision to depict Jews as mice and Nazis as cats in this book, so I guess I was expecting something altogether more abstract? Instead it’s a rather literal depiction of Spiegelman’s father’s experiences throughout WWII, culminating in his release from Auschwitz in 1945.
There’s also an added dimension where Spiegelman chooses to depict the scenes in which he interviewed his father and came to hear these stories. In this present-day timeline we learn about Spiegelman’s complex relationship with his father, and all the tension and resentment that’s built up between them through the years, often due to the fact that his father’s life was shaped so significantly by this atrocious thing that Spiegelman struggles to make sense of, as he was born after the end of the war. Spiegelman also lost his mother to suicide decades earlier, a tragic event from which his father had never fully recovered, though he did go on to remarry. In one particularly devastating panel, Spiegelman laments to his wife that he wishes he could have been in Auschwitz with his parents so he could understand what they had to go through, so he could bridge that gap between generations. That’s this book in a nutshell: raw, unfiltered, uncompromising. It takes a strong stomach to get through this, and I think I spent the better part of it in tears, but if you’re able to read this, I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is the best graphic novel I’ve read, the best piece of Holocaust literature that I’ve read, and strangely enough, the best love story that I’ve read. The final panel shattered me.