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June 27, 2012

Art Spiegelman’s Maus is one of the most accessible and powerful accounts of the holocaust (arguably it’s not so much about the holocaust as the relationship between father and son shaped by the holocaust).  Based on the harrowing experiences of Spiegelman’s parents in Poland prior to and during the Second World War, the genius of the novel is that it takes this emotive story and exploits the medium of comics, repurposing Nazi iconography that portrayed Jews as rats or vermin, to create a compelling narrative that took Spiegelman some thirteen years to complete.

For those that haven’t read it, Jews in the book are portrayed as mice, Nazis as cats, Poles as pigs, and so on, and in true postmodern style the narrative jumps from present to past and back again, but Spiegelman succeeded in exploiting the medium of comics to full effect through the use of black and white only and an almost sketch-like quality that forces the reader to remain with the story and not get distracted by artistic detail.  The result is quite remarkable and though it does have its critics alarmed at the use of the medium (and the use of animals) to depict the holocaust, Maus has developed a worldwide following and been awarded a number of prizes for the author, including a Pulitzer.  More recently, Spiegelman has put together MetaMaus which brings together research material, audio interviews with his father, and interviews with Spiegelman about his process, and a series of rejection letters from numerous publishers, as a 25 year anniversary edition.

There’s a very good BBC interview below in which Spiegelman acknowledges the book is ultimately about the difficulty of communicating memory, but if you have more time the author answers questions on BBC Radio 4’s Bookclub here.

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