Series: Maus I
The son of a Holocaust survivor attempts to come to terms with his father’s history by writing a graphic novel.
Though you may know Maus as that famous comic about the Holocaust, the story told focuses both on Art Spiegelman’s father’s experiences in Europe during WWII and on Art’s own experience of inheriting that legacy. The work slides through time as it depicts Art interviewing his father Vladek about his past as well as Art navigating his difficult relationship with his father in the present. His graphic novel is not really meant to memorialize the victims–and indeed Spiegelman seems to have a horror of sentimentalizing the Holocaust–so much as it is meant to allow Spiegelman to work through what it means to be living in the shadows of his father’s memories.
Art’s preoccupations reveal themselves quite clearly in the scene where Vladek’s second wife Mala makes Art a cup of coffee and begins to describe her own Holocaust experience. Just as she finishes telling Art how her parents died, he jumps up, remembering that his mother’s old diaries might be in his father’s office. Disconcerted, Mala asks where he is going. She is trying to work through her trauma by telling her story, but Art is interested only in working through his own trauma, inherited from his parents.
The result is a complex interweaving of past and present as Spiegelman tells his father’s story from his courtship to the war to his parents’ eventually capture and deportation. It does not sentimentalize the Holocaust nor does it try to speak for all the survivors or make meaning out of tragedy. It’s the retelling of man’s experiences, what he knew at the time, and of his son’s attempt to make meaning out of those experiences decades later. And it ever so subtly it reveals how the effects of the Holocaust reach out to cast shadows even now.