Maus Holocaust book sales take off after ban

Backlash comes after a Tennessee county board nixed schools from using the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Sales of a graphic novel that has been used in American middle schools for decades as a way to teach about the Holocaust have gone through the roof in recent days in reaction to a Tennessee board’s decision to ban it from their county’s schools.

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, written by Art Spiegelman in 1986, depicts Jews as mice, Nazis as cats, and Americans as the heroic dogs who get rid of the cats, while telling his Holocaust-surviving father’s story. It also sensitively includes the often-strained relationship the second generation has with their war-era parents who experienced the trauma.

Spiegelman then wrote a sequel, called Maus II, in 1991. The next year, he received the Pulitzer Prize for his writing.

“The Complete Maus,” with the two-volume set, is currently the No.1 best-seller on Amazon.

The McMinn County Board had decided unanimously, 10-0, on January 10 to remove the book from their curriculum due to “its depiction of violence and suicide,” “killing kids,” the scattered use of curse words, and one scene of “nudity” – of one of the Jewish mice.

Critics of the move acted immediately, with the owner of the nearby Nirvana Comics bookstore, Richard Davis, setting up a GoFundMe page on Saturday, pledging to use the donations to give the novel for free to “students local and across the U.S.” who would message him for a copy on Facebook or Instagram.

Davis, who isn’t Jewish, wrote on the page, “Art Spiegelman’s masterpiece is one of the most important, impactful and influential graphic novels of all time. We believe it is a must read for everyone.”

As of Monday morning, almost $79,000 had been raised out of an initial goal of $10,000. The top donor, named as Nathaniel Bezanson, contributed $1,984. The odd sum was a clear reference to the famous 1949 science fiction novel 1984 by George Orwell that depicted the way a totalitarian state controlled the minds of its population by twisting language so that lies became truth and vice versa.

Davis told CNBC Monday that he received requests for the book from all over the country and even Europe. It touched a chord, he said, because “That’s not what we do in America. We don’t ban books. It triggered a very American response.”

Spiegelman himself told the network that he was glad the county decision had boomeranged in such a way.

“I’m heartened by reader responses and the local responses you mentioned,” he wrote in an email. “The schoolboard could’ve checked with their book-banning predecessor [Russia President] Vladimir Putin: he made the Russian edition of Maus illegal in 2015 (also with good intentions—banning swastikas), and the small publisher sold out immediately and has had to reprint repeatedly.”

Spiegelman added that his agent was trying to put together a “public/Zoom event” for McMinn county, so he could address the issue and take questions about his book.