Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Report: Maus and Meta Maus

Maus : A Survivor's Tale. I.  My Father Bleeds History. II. And Here My Troubles Began, MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus (Book + DVD-R): Reading these books has been a profound experience for me.

Maus is an incredibly thoughtful graphic novel. It won the Pulitzer. Maus I and II is the story of Art Spiegelman's father, who survived Auschwitz. Metamouse is all about how Spiegelman wrote Maus.

I want to talk about three components of these books:

1) The actual story of Polish Jew, Vladek Spiegelman
2) The story between Art and his dad
3) The story of the story of Maus.

These three components are super intriguing. Maus is, I think, a pretty important comic book.

1) Vladek Spiegelman's story is very compelling. He lived through every major Holocaust thing. It's amazing to see how he survived. He wasn't the most brave, but he was clever. I mention this because the survivors are just totally random. It's not like the most "deserving" made it through Auschwitz. This underscores the senselessness of it. Vladek's father pulled the teeth of his brothers so they could stay out of the Russian army. Vladek went into the Russian army. He was a prisoner of war. He survived that to be rounded up by Gestapo and moved into a Jewish ghetto. He built hiding places in his attic. He married a girl he really loved. They had a child and sent him away for safety (which ended badly). His grandparents willingly surrendered when he and his dad were held hostage. Vladek and his wife ended up in Auschwitz. It's horrible. But they both survived. It's a remarkable story.

See how the Spiegelman's fared in WWII:


2) But the Spiegelmans survived. They lost a child in the war, but they got out of Auschwitz, came to America and had Art. Art's a non-believer who had a strained relationship with his Jewish dad. You'd think he would have so much respect for his father because of what Vladek went through, but they had normal father-son issues. One of the things Art hated and always harped on about his father is how cheap he was. And yet, you read about how saving bread crusts literally saved Vladek's life. You'd think his son would cut him some slack. But he doesn't. The graphic novel depicts Vladek's story, but it also depicts Art interviewing his dad to get the stories and some of their squabbles are included.

To make matters worse, Art's mom kills herself when he's an adult. He's really mad and sad (like you would be) and he isn't very sensitive to his dad's great loss. (His dad starved and saved bread to trade for cigarettes to trade with guards to get his wife moved into an adjoining camp so he could look at her through a fence from the top of a roof.) Art never glosses over his own self-centeredness. It takes a lot of humility to do that. And it's very poignant to read.

3) Art does reconcile with his father through interviewing him for Maus. He started the interviews in 1978. His father died in 1982. It took several more years for Art to finish Maus. Metamaus describes the painstaking process of creating the graphic novel. It seems like such a casual genre, but the panel sizes and the way he did the dialog boxes was all intentional and planned out. It's crazy how much work and thought went into. I loved reading about it.

Metamaus includes full transcripts of Art and Vladek's interview. I read every wrd. There is also a dvd included with Metamaus that has actual audio from the interviews. It's so moving to hear Vladek tell his story.

Vladek would pedal on a stationary bike while Art asked him questions. It's such a quirky detail when you see it in the graphic novel. But it's kind of weird when you actually hear him talk with the bike going in the background. It's so not-Schindler's List. I've never talked to a holocaust survivor. I couldn't believe some of the stuff he told about. I mean, you know it and you can imagine it and you've seen movies about it but, geeze. It's almost too much. And yet there's Art interrupting his dad to clarify a point so he can draw the scene later and Vladek getting a bit annoyed. It's unique. I don't know what else is like it. For example, Art asks about the striped pajamas "What color were the stripes?"

"Uhhh,  blue and grey!"  Vladek answers peevishly.

In fact, Vladek worked a scheme to get a new pajama shirt that he washed and scrubbed and kept perfectly clean under his other shirt. When prisoners were examined for lice he changed into his pristine shirt. That's one of the ways he stayed alive.
I know it's a downer, but there's a lot to this series. I hope you read it.


  1. I've read this--but I didn't know all the details. The photos of the pedigree chart are awful. You're right--it's too much. What an important project.

  2. I've been waiting and waiting to read this with my kids. My oldest is twelve . . . can I do it yet?

  3. 12? Maybe. I might wait. Read it and see what you think. You can read it in a day.

  4. I haven't read this, but it's sitting on our shelf. My husband likes and respects it.

  5. Anonymous6:22 PM

    I had to read Maus for university. I appreciated the story, but I don't know, I wish it had just been a novel. I'm not crazy about graphic novels. Sorry if that makes me a book snob.


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