With all the controversy over the graphic novel Maus after a school board in Tennessee removed it from its eighth-grade curriculum, I decided to read it for myself. I’d heard of the book and that it is the only graphic novel to ever win a Pulitzer Prize, but I had never read it myself.
The book is the story of the author’s father in Poland during the Nazi rise to power in Germany, including his experience of the war in Poland and in Auschwitz. The Jews in the comic are mice, the Germans cats, and the Poles pigs. As you might expect, it is not a story with a happy ending.
In fact, the story doesn’t have much of an ending at all. And it is more than just the story of the author’s father. It is the story of how the author interviewed his father and came to learn about his experiences. Through the story we learn that in large part this was an effort of the author to learn about and understand his father in light of his own childhood with his father. And the telling is unflinching and real.
Perhaps this is why the book has been both used as a tool for teaching the holocaust in schools as well as made it the target of banning. It shows the brutality and cruelty of what really happened and how it affected not only those who went through it but the rest of their families as well, including their children born after the war. It is a story that still needs telling, and reading.