Maus, Volume 1: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
I’d heard of the Maus graphic novels several years ago and read the first volume in a gallop. So I decided, after being gifted both volumes from my sister a few birthdays back, that it was time to read both volumes this year. I was not prepared for the sobering similarities between 1930s Nazi-occupied Poland and 2016 America, but that’s what makes art so crucial in general, and stories like Vladek Spiegelman’s in particular.
Maus, Volume 1: My Father Bleeds History begins with comics artist Art Spiegelman trying to figure out his father’s life. His mother had committed suicide several years back, and his father Vladek, unhappily remarried, was just not doing well. During one of their conversations, Art asks his father about life before the war, and the narration flips back and forth on these alternating timelines. We hear about Vladek’s courtship of his wife Anja (Art’s mother), their establishment of a textiles factory in Poland, their first son Richieu, and the growing unease with the occupation of Nazis in Poland. It’s a slow burn of a story with a conclusion that we already know, but it gains even more traction with the details that Spiegelman fills in. The story ends on a startling note, which makes you wonder how Spiegelman will pick up the threads of the first volume and bring us out of the war into the present moment.
I’ve not even talked about the conceit of the comic itself: Spiegelman artistically renders the Jews as mice, the Nazis as predatory cats, the French as frogs, and the Americans as dogs. By masking identities in creaturely disguise, Spiegelman deconstructs the dehumanizing effects of war and torture on all individuals involved, not just victims or their assailants.