Maus, the true story of a survivor

Maus, the graphic novel by Art Spiegelman has now become a classic. The Pulitzer Prize-winning work, set during the Second World War, tells the true story of Vladek Spiegelman, the Polish-Jewish father of the author. The characters are anthropomorphic animals: Jews are represented by mice, Germans by cats and Poles by pigs.

The comic tells the story of the protagonist from a happy moment in his life, before the war. Vladek soon meets Anja, a young Jewish girl from the country, and falls in love with her. At the same time war breaks out, and in September 1939 Vladek is sent to the border where he is captured by enemy troops. From this moment it begins a life made up of expedients, of days spent in various hiding places, looking for food on the black market and selling and buying fabrics without a card, made a little less hard only by the considerable wealth of his family, which also Richieu, their little son, belongs to.

The history of the Second World War is interrupted at times by scenes from the daily life of Art Spiegelman who interacts with Vladek with whom he has a difficult relationship: his father, a veteran of the horrors of Nazism, has an impossible lifestyle that he also imposes on those who are around; the apparently indifferent child is tormented by an enormous sense of inadequacy in the face of what the parent has experienced.

It took Spiegelman more than twenty years to write and draw Maus. Before being published in book form, the comic appeared in installments in Raw magazine, founded by Spiegelman himself and his wife Françoise, art editor of the New Yorker since 1993: the first chapter came out in December 1980; the penultimate in the latest issue of Raw, in 1991. Spiegelman had been working on the Maus project since the early 1970s, interviewing his father.

The book is divided into two parts: “my father bleeds history” and “this is where my troubles began”. The first volume of Maus also contains some pages of a comic drawn by Spiegelman for a magazine in 1968. In this short section entitled “Prisoner on the Planet Hell – a case report”, the author narrates his experience and emotions on the day of the funeral of his mother Anja, who committed suicide when he was 20 years old.

Maus tells in a very expressive way the experience of a Jew who survived Auschwitz and the horror of war, a perfect book to read these days.

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Nelva Sanchez


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