I received the Maus box set – I and II – as a Christmas gift last year. I stumbled across it around November in a book store and it looked mildly interesting so I put it on my list because, apparently, I’m the hardest person in the world to buy for so I still keep a list like a five year old. Anyway, I got down to reading it right away since I had barrels of time on my hands and I blew through it in about three days; I couldn’t put it down.
Like probably everyone else, I have been exposed to a lot of holocaust information; between the History Channel, Night, and school, it got to the point where it became another event in time, like the Napoleonic Wars or the dinner I had last night. Simply put, I became so inundated with these horrific stories that they lost all of their significance and impact. Unfortunately, and it’s even unbelievable to type, the atrocities which took place in Nazi Germany were as normal and everyday as clouds.
This is where Maus came in. I’m not sure why, but I while reading it the first time – and it happened again as I was going through the Maus II – I would be forced to stop. When this would happen, I would involuntarily and immediately stop reading and either look at the page or some point on a wall. Moreover, I’m not really sure what would pass through my mind – it’s probably a mix of “Oh my God,” “Are you serious,” and some utter existential confusion in light of these events.
What shocks me still about all this is that Maus is, crassly, a comic. I know technically it’s a graphic novel, and I completely respect that, but to any person looking for simple reductions it’s a comic. This was my view when I would be stunned: “Barry, it’s a dressed up Marvel comic.”
Nevertheless, it’s very simplicity and authenticity is what drives this very graphic novel: it strips the holocaust of all of the typical facts – six million Jews killed; concentration camps; horrible conditions; “final solution;” and reduces it to the simple humanity. The device of animal personification does more than symbolize the relationships of different sides; it shocks the reader into looking at the event with new eyes. We are exposed to the bare essentials of the holocaust – people were lost; six million people enslaved, degraded, and systematically or randomly slaughtered – and they knew it was coming.
Spiegelman focuses on the lone story of his father, as man (mouse) who survived the Nazi regime. By doing this, he leads us away from the common known facts and into the world of an individual whose face has been altered to make the common story even less familiar. Pavel describes being in the camps as “BOO!... But always,” (46). This is what the story does for me – it’s BOO! at every page.