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Book Review Example: Maus by Art Spiegelman

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University of California, Santa Barbara
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Book review
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MAUS is a comic book which narrates a true story of how the writers father, Vladek, escaped from Poland to America during the Second World War. The book comprises of two main stories. The first one is about the writer asking about his fathers personal experience back in World War II while the second is about how the writers father survived the war. The whole story was mainly presented in the dialogues.

Unlike other comics or films, this book documents the historical facts about Jews and other races during the Nazi time in an objective way and particularly how the writers father survived through, and ran away from Nazis atrocities. The writer did not append on his personal view, but just recorded things which had happened without any cloaks. Furthermore, his comic was unique and different from others, that always had a superhero as the main character at that time ((Stier). With the Spiegelman's depiction, we can see that the Vladek was not a perfect man as sometimes he would be paranoid when he thinks of whether Mala married him for his money. He wanted to save every penny he could, and he was too old to fix the pipe for himself. Maybe the war forced him to be like this. The neutral description of the Spiegelman's father makes him more like a real person instead of a made-up character. Sometimes Vladek would act strangely, but this is not a surprise since we are not perfect and everyone makes a mistake. The figure of the writers father was very complete, right because of his imperfections(Stier).

Spiegelman wrote MAUS as a comic book which makes it more easy for people to understand the story because pictures can give the audiences a more visualized situation. Some of the scenes are terrific and shock everyone once you visualize what is happened, like the Nazi soldier swinging a child against the wall (Spiegelman 110). The Holocaust had no heroes, only civilian and victims. However, the story is so surreal that the comic format appears almost essential to capture the scope of the tragedy. Spiegelman is capable of making the transition from past to present very smooth and easy to comprehend by using the comic strip. Vladek can go from talking directly to him to telling more of the story, and this does not interfere the aim of the book. Spiegelman does not point out that we are moving from the past to the present or vice versa or even use date heading. As a reader, it is easier to detect from the darker contrast in the drawings and details in the characters that they have moved back to Europe (Smith). Moreover, the great story displayed with the comic as a carrier means that this book can be separated out more broadly. Younger and older adults can understand this book more simply, and even though this is a comic book, it has some seriousness. The use of black and white lines and area to represent characters and shadows makes this book full of oppression. To reproduce the true scenes in his comic, the author did a lot of research regarding his father who was a war victim, and also from other text and image resources (Stier).

Even though many victims run away from war physically, they remain mentally unstable when they remember those dark memories of the Holocaust. During the war period, individuals cared for themselves, as Vladek always said. There were no moral principles, and the only remaining principle was the trade-offs. To buy foods and to find a shelter, Vladek had to make deals with different people to keep him and his families alive. At that time, people did not trust each other, the only reason they can help each other was because they have temporary common intreats(Smith). People valued money more than human lives, for instance, some of Jews abandoned their families and cared only about themselves. However, Vladek was not that kind of people who abandoned their family. Instead, he took the burden to keep the whole family alive through the war. Although he did not save the whole family as he lost some of his family members, he tried his best since finding such a human being especially in such a war was rare. The war had diluted the sense of civilization and made people more like soulless animals, but Vladek still turned out to be a rational human. He always held love at the bottom in his heart, and this made him become a bright and hopeful light during that gloomy wartime(Smith).

Spiegelman can combine various non-traditional elements to document the struggles that his father goes through; using the comic strip and animals to represent the existences of different races and nationalities while maintaining the authenticity of the story. As we can see from the book, all the characters are represented by different animals according to their races. The mice indicate the Jews, which can imply they are like mice, that seem weak but smart and appeared invisible but tough and strong. They can always hide in the dark, and only come out for foods to survival (Spiegelman 112). Cats in this book mean German, and cats are predators of mice. Cats not only eat mice but also play with mice. The Nazi soldier threatened Anjas father that if he did not give the bed, he would be killed. Also, pigs symbolize those Polish, because they can be easily controlled by foods, and Nazi government controlled all the markets by coupons. Pigs mean greedy, we can find out from Vladeks landlady who charged a lot for his room. However, sometimes people can wear masks to pretend to be another race, and this shows how absurd it is to divide and rank people merely by their races. Furthermore, different races of people can be recognized more clearly than just use human faces directly (Stier). There are numerous paradoxes in the book that increases the sense of irony, and this frequently occurred on the writers father. He was always trapped by a situation with only two options offered, and each choice can be both right and wrong. When Vladek, the writers father, was on his way to visit his friend, Nazi soldiers were arresting Jews no matter whether they have licensed or not. At that time, if he walked casually like nothing happening, he would be caught, and if he ran, the soldiers would shoot him. Neither options for him could guarantee his safety. In such a scenario, his life was dominated by his fate. On the other hand, this means that his own life could not be controlled by himself. At that time, Nazi soldiers could do anything they wanted to Jews such grabbing innocent Jewish kids leg and throw them against the wall (Spiegelman 110). They forgot that Jews were still a human being just like themselves. German soldiers seemed like animals instead of human beings. What they did showed that there was no humanity in them at all and the only thing they knew in their minds was killing innocent people (Kincade).

As we all know, the Jews were the victims in WWII. However, the criminals were not only the Nazis but also Jews themselves. When Vladek and his family were hiding in a bunker located under the roof of the house, a stranger Jew just showed up right at the entrance of the secret bunker. Vladek and his family thought that he was a good man, so they gave him some food and let him go. Unfortunately, that man led the Nazi soldiers to their hidden shelter, and Vladek and his families were all caught and taken to the ghetto (Spiegelman 115). While, in the ghetto, they were further betrayed by their relative once again. Vladek had a cousin called Haskel, who always kept a healthy relationship with Nazi soldiers by intentionally losing money when playing cards. Even with such an opportunity, he did not want to give a hand to his relatives to escape from this hell, until Vladek implied that he could pay. The escape plan went well at first, but, on Anjas fathers turn, Haskel refused to save him because he was too old, even though Haskel had taken the gold watch and diamond (Spiegelman 117). These two cases show that during that period, the afflicted Jews only cared about their own life. Sometimes, there were some selfish ones would sell the interests of a compatriot. If everyone only cares about his/her benefits, instead of the caring for the whole group, they are just sands, and if they can gather round, they can be a tough rock which can defeat the invaders. However, if everyone only cares about their own, the individual power is too weak against such a strong power like Nazi (Ravelo).

When you think of a comic book, this is the book that can be called the epic comic with no doubt. This book shows that comic cannot only be read for entertainment, but also encourages the audiences to think. There are thousands of ways to view this book, and there are thousands of arguments regarding this book that can be debated. Maybe after finishing reading this book, I can feel how fortunate we were born during a peaceful period, and we should be grateful for that. Also, we all need to understand that people do have different races, but it cannot become the barriers between races. Every race of people is equal because we are all human. We all have the same right to live.


Works Cited

Kincade, Jonathan. "Art Spiegelman's Maus:(Graphic) Novel and Abstract Icon." discovery: Georgia State Honors College Undergraduate Research Journal 1.1 (2013): 2.

Ravelo, Livia Carolina. "Semiotic analysis of Art Spiegelmans Maus: A war comic with an open ending." Ajal (2013): 7.

Smith, Philip. "Spiegelman Studies Part 1 of 2: Maus." Literature Compass 12.10 (2015): 499-508.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: a survivor's tale. New York: Pantheon, 2011. Print.

Stier, Oren Baruch. "Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelmans Survivors Tale of the Holocaust, Deborah R. Geis, ed.(Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003) (2005): 549-551.


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