Study Guide

Maus: A Survivor's Tale Book I, Chapter 1

By Art Spiegelman

Book I, Chapter 1

The Sheik

  • Now an adult, Art arrives at the home of his father, Vladek, in Rego Park for a visit. He notices how his mother’s suicide and two heart attacks have aged his father. Vladek has married Mala, a friend who knew both his parents in Poland before the war.
  • After dinner, Vladek and Art go to his old room, where Vladek has set up an exercise bike. Art convinces Vladek to tell him his story so that he can write a book about his life, particularly in Poland and the war.
  • Pedaling on his exercise bike, Vladek begins by telling Art the story of how he met Art’s mother.
  • Here the story cuts to Vladek’s memories.
  • As a young man in Czestochowa, Poland, Vladek was a handsome (at least according to himself) young man on the up in the textiles business. According to Vladek, many thought he looked like a young Rudolph Valentino.
  • Vladek was in a relationship with a needy young woman named Lucia Greenberg, who was hot but poor.
  • In December, 1935, Vladek takes the train on one of his regular visits to his family in Sosnowiec.
  • There, his cousin introduces him to the sensitive – and rich – young Anja (Anna) Zylberberg, Art’s mother.
  • They start a long-distance relationship with regular phone calls.
  • When Lucia sees Anja’s picture at Vladek’s apartment, she throws a fit. Vladek breaks off their relationship.
  • Vladek visits Anja again. They encounter her school director at the park. The school director sings her praises.
  • Anja then invites Vladek over for dinner at her family.
  • When Vladek arrives, he’s impressed by her family’s wealth, which comes from owning the largest hosiery factory in Poland. But then he pokes around her room. He likes that she’s a neat freak – but he discovers some pills and freaks out.
  • A friend later tells him that the pills are nothing to worry about – something about Anja being “skinny and nervous” (I.21). By the end of 1936, they are engaged and Vladek moves back to Sosnowiec for good.
  • Their engagement hits a snag when Anja receives an anonymous letter from “L.” that claims that Vladek’s just a player who’s out for Anja’s money.
  • Vladek immediately suspects that “L” is his old flame Lucia, and he eventually convinces Anja that the letter is just a lot of dirt from a bitter ex-girlfriend.
  • Vladek and Anja are married on February 14, 1937, and move into one of her father’s apartments.
  • The story shifts at this point to the present day, where Vladek asks Art not to publish these private details. Art promises not to.