Reviews: Maus

A Poignant Masterpiece

I'm a man of inconsistent judgement - my favourite movie changes from year to year and my favourite video game changes every month, but Maus has been my favourite graphic novel for the last six years, and I doubt that's going to change any time soon.

If I could describe the story in a single word, it would be 'powerful', because even though textbooks, essays, and novels have been written about the World War II for decades, never has a first-person account of what went on seemed so unique and enlightening. The visual metaphor is simple, but very effective - Jews are mice, and Nazis are cats. It goes a long way towards showing the dehumanisation that the prisoners and the guards both felt, and although I would never in a million years say that the book was comfortable to read, replacing the humans with mice not only deconstructs the Funny Animal cliché, but it makes it possible to read the more disturbing scenes without being too disgusted to continue, which could not be said for everyone if the illustrated characters were human.

That said, the book is still rife with Nightmare Fuel, if only because it's a real story. The way in which we're shown Vladek during the Holocaust, where his quick thinking and bravery make him one of the few survivors of Auschwitz, but we're also shown his life as an older man, where he's grumpy, thrifty, and even racist at times, add a heavy dose of realism to an already realistic tale.

It's not funny, nor would I call it entertaining, but there's something about Maus that's as gripping as it is personal. I normally only recommend books to people I think would enjoy them, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to everyone I know. If you like graphic novels or the study of history in general, you owe it to yourself to read this.