This is a tragically beautiful graphic novel. I’ve read a couple of novels about the Jewish suppression and Jew-baiting during WWII, but this novel hits the point like no other. The story is tragic, though or maybe because it’s written rather objectively.
The frame story is set in the late 70s in the USA. Art Spiegelman plans to write a graphic novel about his fathers’ history during WWII. He and his father do not get along well. Also, Art seems to blame himself for the suicide of his mother, because he never showed her the love she had longed for. Vladek Spiegelman has survived the concentration camps, but has grown to be a rancorous, greedy old man, who is racist to black Americans, who is complaining about his health and his second wife, even to his son – who clearly doesn’t want to hear about the marital problems of his father. I loved how Vladek still speaks English with a Polish accent. Art and Vladeks relationship is rather detached. Nevertheless, Art urges his father to tell him about his life in 1939-1945. Those events are shown in flashbacks told by Vladek and drawn by Art.
The characters are drawn as animals instead of humans – Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs. By making animals out of the characters, Spiegelman uses the only way to tell such a horrible story in the format of a comic book. Also, he reduces the differences between people of each ethnicity: they all look alike. And is this not exactly what happened during the war? Jews were all the same vermin in the eyes of the Nazis. Spiegelman depicted that by making mice out of them, which are hunt by the cats, naturally.
This book is so beautiful and powerful that it will touch one deep in the soul and leave an impression there for all times.