This haunting graphic novel depicts the Holocaust through the eyes of Art’s father, a Polish Jew called Vladek who suffered greatly but survived the concentration camps. Starting with the meeting of his father and his mother, The Complete Maus carries their story through to the end of the horrors, juxtaposed with Art’s present-day life and struggle to appease his elderly father while recording his history before it’s too late. By using animals to represent groups of people (Nazis are cats, Jews are mice, French are frogs, and so on), the author strengthens his allegory and makes this book into an unforgettable and horrifying piece of art.
I hesistated for a few weeks before writing this review. Another review is surely excessive because I’ve seen tons out there. Still, my thoughts wanted a place, and when it comes down to it, this graphic novel hasn’t left me alone yet.
Perhaps what’s most striking about this particular tale is that Vladek is an ordinary old man. In some way, Holocaust survivors are expected to be supernaturally brave, intelligent, and in essence heroes. They are that, but they are also normal people thrust into the worst situation imaginable and forced to cope or die or both. Vladek has undoubtedly been shaped by his experience but not in the best ways. He hoards food, he hoards money, because his world is still uncertain and he knows what deprivation is like. This irritates everyone around him but the saddest part is that he is so normal. It brings home to us the fact that ordinary people were suffered and died for no reason. Vladek is startlingly like my grandpa and that makes the real story even more horrifying than it would have been without the frame. It reminds us how lucky we are, as does Art’s constant struggle with his guilt over his role in his father’s life.
As I’m sure many others have, I have heard a lot of Holocaust stories over my lifetime. I was taught about it in school, given books about it, and chose on my own to read about it on numerous occasions. That doesn’t lessen the impact of this one. Since this one is set in Poland, and there is a lot of running around and hiding before Vladek and Anya are caught, I felt it was a little different than others. The fact that it’s a graphic novel also made a difference. Even in cartoon form, seeing the wasted bodies of the mice is upsetting. The few real pictures added just make a huge impact, reminding us that these were real people.
Overall, this graphic novel is carefully crafted and deeply moving. I don’t want to say something so horrifying is “good”, because that is impossible. Rather, its power and stunning capacity to portray humanity and inhumanity through selected text and drawings makes it worth noting, remembering, and reading.