By Kate Teves
When I was in college, the Pulitzer-prize winning graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman was considered essential reading for anyone hoping to be relevant in late-night creative mashes. It was so ubiquitous among the artists and writers on campus that I, being the ferocious brat that I am, avoided it.
Then I went to graduate school and learned that Maus had achieved even greater heights, and scholars in the most elite graduate seminars were analyzing it through Derridean and Freudian lenses. Once again, I let out a bratty snarl. “If it’s that good, then they’ve obviously ruined it with over-analysis.”
A decade passed in which I began reading all kinds of graphic novels. I was a goner for the genre when I discovered Persepolis. I knew right then my life would never be the same. But to my irritation, almost every reviewer of Persepolis said the same thing: “Reminiscent of Maus.” Are you kidding me?!?
It took me until last weekend to finally sit down with the illustrated traumas of the Holocaust and read the darn thing. Secluded in the dissonant weirdness of a golf resort in Orlando, I prepared myself for stale clichés.
Instead I found myself swallowed, instantly, by a rich and original book that left me breathless. Rather than reducing the Holocaust to platitudes, Spiegelman’s comics preserved the senselessness of the war. Good and bad stayed messy, violence stayed unreasonable, and survival stayed heartbreakingly unpredictable. As he shared his father’s stories of Poland, Spiegelman avoided explaining them away or finding some kind of redemptive narrative in his family's suffering.
The Holocaust remained unfathomable and, in turn, unacceptable.
There are so many ways to experience this book, and it is one I wish I read for the first time back in middle school. I know I would have read it again and again, each time with fresh eyes.
I recommend Maus to anyone ages 12 and up. Click here to learn more about the impact of Maus on the comic and literary world.