On Tuesday, I reviewed Maus I: My Father Bleeds History. As I stated in that review, the ending leaves you hanging mid-air, just as the author's father and mother have finally been captured by the Germans and transported to Auschwitz. It isn't hard to figure out what comes next, but seeing it come to life in Spiegelman's illustrations is an experience unto itself.
Synopsis: In this sequel, Art continues to interview his elderly, crotchety old father Vladek about his experiences in the Holocaust. Vladek and his wife Anna have spent months outrunning and outsmarting the Germans, scrapping for food and shelter, but eventually they are captured and sent to the extermination camp.
There are no surprises here. Humans are killed randomly and en masse. The mentally and physically infirm die, and the strong survive. Vladek and Anna are separated and Vladek fears for his wife's life because she is mentally fragile. But Vladek does his thing. He learns various trades to be of value to the Germans, he teaches the guards English, he bribes the guards for favors, all the while watching his friends die. We learn of how Vladek and Anna are reunited against all odds after the liberation, only for Anna to commit suicide years later.
Meanwhile Art must cope with the success of Maus I, with the increasing frailty of his father (especially after his wife left him), and with his conflicted emotions surrounding their relationship.
My thoughts: I discussed this at length in my review of Maus I, but it bears mentioning again. Spiegelman cleverly uses animals to portray the distinctions and divide between race and class...Jews are the mice, Germans are the cats, Poles are pigs. When a character is putting forth a false front, pretending to be something they are not, they wear masks of a different animal. It is jarring and thought-provoking when you see it. Days could be spent discussing the implications.
This installment was no easier to stomach than the first. The graphics are horrifying and incredibly intense, as you would expect when talking about the extermination camps. But there are other topics in the mix here which are just as disturbing and confusing. Vladek's hate towards blacks and homosexuals. His cruelty towards his current wife. The complicated relationship between father and son. The son's difficulty in coping with the demons that originally haunted his father.
The flow of this book was not as seamless as the first. There is some jumping around in time...at times Vladek has already passed away, other times Art is still interviewing his father, and other times it is an account of Vladek's experiences in the camps. It isn't impossible to follow, but makes it seem jerky at times.
Overall, however I think this set of novels is unmatched when it comes to the history of WWII from the perspective of the common Polish Jew. I will be forever marked by it.
5 out of 5 stars