Maus by Art Spiegelman, published over the course of 11 years, covers the story of Art Spiegelman’s father during the second World War and how he survived the Holocaust. This was the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize (1992). The story is a mix of Art talking with his father and having his father tell his story. It is also a quasi-memoir of Art’s creation of the comic itself.
You can get the complete collection in one volume. I read a two-volume version with each being about 140 pages, but as a graphic novel it reads really quickly especially since the story is enthralling. You can easily read it all in one sitting if you don’t need to take a break from some of the heavier scenes.
I may have never heard of this book or picked it up except it was in the news as part of the increasing number of book bans happening in the United States. It is a powerful, true story that I am glad I read. Banning a book is just recommending that book to me.
I looked up why this book was banned and there are a few excuses put forth. One being the use (less than a handful of instances) of “coarse” language as well as the depiction of a nude woman (one instance in an extremely non-sexual manner). Other reasons included descriptions of people being killed, hanging from trees, committing suicide, and the murder of children. This is a true story depicting real events. These things happened in Europe during World War II. Ultimately, Maus was banned in Tennessee for the first reason listed consisting of coarse language and nudity. Though I was glad to hear that the books, after being removed from schools, were donated to libraries and students have been circulating the story as a result of the ban. Perhaps they are even reading it more readily than prior to the ban.
Art Spiegelman himself commented on the ban and suggested that the board who implemented the ban wanted to teach “a nicer Holocaust.” A powerful yet accurate statement. History is viewed through a lens whether we like it or not. Sometimes the lens is broken, sometimes it is blurry, sometimes people never look through it, and sometimes people try to cover it altogether so we can’t see a truth they would rather avoid. The Holocaust is one of the best-recorded atrocities the human race has committed against itself. Some people have a hard time believing much or any of it actually happened. Those who deny it only pave the road for it to happen again.
One reason I think this book is important is also one of my biggest issues with it (though it’s not a real “issue” per se). The comic format, especially using animals for different nationalities/etc., makes it easier to read the story and allows visual cues (such as a Jew pretending not to be a Jew in order to survive), but it also makes it easier for the reader to forget that it is a recording of true events. The reader could imagine it as simply a work of fiction. This is a double-edges knife because it makes the story more accessible and easier to experience especially for more empathetic persons, but it risks the reality of it being lost within the art.
The choice of medium may have been the only way Art Spiegelman could get the story down. It didn’t seem to be easy for him and understandably so. However, I am grateful he did finish and get the work out into the world. This is an important story to be told.
I hate to see books being banned, but I am happy to see people (kids in particular) using the ban itself as a reason to read the material. Perhaps it will encourage you to read it as well.