Book Card  -  Volume 22  -  Book Review Number 1  -  Thu, Dec 5, 1991 9:59 PM

TITLE: MAUS: A Survivor's Tale
AUTHOR: Art Spiegelman

MAUS is one of those odd, brilliant books in which Ponarvians delight. Art Spiegelman is a cartoon artist. He has made his living for years doing avant garde, underground comics. Finally in 1986 he came out with this book. It's an autobiographical novel about Speigelman's father experience as a Jew in Poland in the years leading up to WW2 and into the war, up until he was finally captured by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz in 1944.

It's amazing that a comic book can be so harrowing and narratively riveting. The book starts out with Speigelman visiting his father, Vladik, in the mid 1980's, who now lives in the Rego Park section of Queens. Vladik's wife, Speigelman's mother, Anja, has died just a few years ago, and Speigelman gets his father to tell what his early courtship was like with her. And so begins this tale of surviving. The Jews in this comic book are all mice, the Nazi's cats, and the Poles are pigs. When a Jew wants to "pass" as a Pole, speigelman draws a mouse wearing a pig mask.

The story is extraordinarily detailed, surprisingly for a comic (in fact, throw out the window all your preconceptions about comic books when you read this book). The prose details all the twists and turns of Vladik and Anja as they were forced by the nazi's into the Jewish ghetto. It tells how they and manage to hide and survive as all their friends and family are one by one taken away to the camps. Speigelman even gives us architectural drawings of their various hiding places in the various houses they managed to live. You see the false walls, the secret pathway under the coal bins, etc. You learn about the Jewish police in the ghettos, who were in league with the Nazis; you see how thee jews hid valuables in tins of shoe polish; you see maps of how parts of Poland was annexed to both Russia and Germany, with only a small Polish protectorate left, its government, like in Vichy France, lackeys of the the Reich.

Just when the story is becoming to much, too horrible, too heartbreaking, Speigelman cuts back to the present, to his father squabbling with his new wife, Mala, also a holacaust survivor, over money, and with his son over the broken drain pipe on the house. You see what type of people this wartime experience has turned these survivors into. That's heartbreaking, too.

I came across this book because I'm teaching a course in the spring on American Jewish Literature, and I was looking for a book written by an American Jew about the holacaust. It seems ironic that the best book I've found is a deadly serious comic book. Speigelman is just out with a sequal to MAUS. It profiles his father's experiences from Auschwitz to the present. It's getting rave notices, too. If it's as good as MAUS 1, it must be brilliant.