I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
Acclaimed as a quiet triumph and a brutally moving work of art, the first volume of Art Spieglman's Maus introduced readers to Vladek Spiegleman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler's Europe, and his son, a cartoonist trying to come to terms with his father, his father's terrifying story, and History itself. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), succeeds perfectly in shocking us out of any lingering sense of familiararity with the events described, approaching, as it does, the unspeakable through the diminutive.
This second volume, subtitled And Here My Troubles Began, moves us from the barracks of Auschwitz to the bungalows of the Catskills. Genuinely tragic and comic by turns, it attains a complexity of theme and a precision of thought new to comics and rare in any medium. Maus ties together two powerful stories: Vladek's harrowing tale of survival against all odds, delineating the paradox of daily life in the death camps, and the author's account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. At every level this is the ultimate survivor's tale - and that too of the children who somehow survive even the survivors. (source)
I am so glad that I read the Maus series early on in my graphic novels experiment. My experience with these books was so much more successful than my experience with American Born Chinese. I think it's because these are books that I would have picked up if they were written in a more traditional format, and literally the only reason I picked up ABC was because I wanted to read graphic novels. Reading a story that actually appealed to me definitely made a difference.
I think it's amazing how every time I read about a Holocaust survivor's experience, I learn something new and I'm always even more shocked by the atrocities of the Holocaust than I was before. I think most, if not all, of us have learned about the Holocaust in one history class or another. We know about the hatred felt towards the Jews and the discrimination that they faced, which soon devolved into full out persecution. We know about the gas chambers and the concentration camps and the ghettos. But until you read a survivor's story, sometimes it's hard to really think about the Jews and other Holocaust victims as individuals with unique experiences, rather than one mass group of people with one massive horrific experience. I've read many stories of Holocaust survivors and every single time, I read something different. Yes, there are many common factors, but each one had a completely unique experience. And each experience was absolutely horrendous. It's heartbreaking to think of how many lives were irreparably damaged and destroyed by this awful period of history.
As heartbreaking as Vladek's experiences during the Holocaust were, it was just as difficult for me to read the portions of the book that took place in "present" day (aka 1980s). I think it's so sad that he had such a rocky relationship with his only living son, Art (the author of the book). Art makes it very clear to the reader that Vladek had a very difficult personality, to the point that neither his son nor his current wife wanted to be around him for long. I think that's so sad. Sometimes, I'd get really frustrated with Art for not having more patience. At the same time, Vladek truly was an ornery man in his old age and he didn't really make it easy to interact with him. This is another point that we sometimes don't think about in regard to Holocaust survivors - the impact of their experiences after the war. It would be next to impossible to have the experiences that those people had and not come out of the war without some sort of emotional and/or psychological impact. I think it's amazing to think of how these survivors not only lived through the war, but also overcame these scars in order to attempt to live a normal life after the war. Spiegelman does a great job of portraying not only Vladek's experiences during the war, but also his struggles to cope with his memories afterwards.
I mentioned in my review of Maus I that I didn't understand why Spiegelman chose to split his story into two books, and I still don't understand his reasoning for this. I still think that a single 300 page length book would have been perfectly acceptable and I don't really understand why he'd split it into two installments, aside from wanting to make more money and it simply being the way things are done in the graphic novel industry - and in my opinion, both of these reasons are bogus, if they're the reasons for his decision.
The Maus series is a fantastic portrayal of the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors. It's very cleverly written and I think that Spiegelman's decision to use a graphic novel format was very original and unique. It sets his work apart from the many other memoirs of Holocaust survivors that exist. If you have any interest at all in the Holocaust or graphic novels, I recommend that you give this a try. It's a very worthwhile read and tells an extremely important story that needs to be read.