Adam’s Review of The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Today I will be reviewing the novel that got me interested in graphic novels and really introduced me to this underrated genre of books, The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman. With the source material coming directly from conversations Art had with his father Vladek over a period of time, Art converted this story to a graphic novel where every Jewish person is a mouse and every other ethnicity is portrayed by a different animal (Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, etc). The story paints a vivid and true picture of what it means to survive under any circumstances, and how we often don’t know the real version of our parents’ history until we hear it from them firsthand. Telling his father’s story of the events leading up to the Holocaust and how he survived his time in Auschwitz, this graphic novel somehow makes the events of the Holocaust more real than any textbook could. Maybe it’s because it’s a real story and not just a jumble of different facts and figures, but this novel really hit me in a way that other Holocaust literature hasn’t before.

As I previously stated, Maus tells the story of the author’s father and his journey during the Holocaust. Now in his 70’s, Vladek is in poor health after surviving two heart attacks. Art wants to get the full story of what actually occurred with his father and mother (who committed suicide 10 years prior to Art starting to collect his notes). The retelling of the events begin with Vladek meeting Art’s mother Anja, and details how they got married and the life they had prior to the Holocaust. Told as if we were a fly on the wall during the conversations Art had with his father, we mainly listen to Art having multiple conversations with his father, including some side notes and historical information to fill the reader in. This allows for a full experience, as you somehow feel more part of the story than if it was written in a third person narrative. Maybe it was the pictures that accompanied the dialogue, but reading this was a much more fulfilling experience for me. We can never imagine what life was like for the Jewish people and those others who were sent to concentration camps, but this book gives an accurate tale of what it was like for one person, and the pictures really help to bring that message home. The illustrations were amazing and really vivid. My favorite part of the novel’s illustrations was when the mice were hiding or were pretending to not be Jewish. Rather than drawing them as a different animal, Art put a mask on them depicting the animal they were trying to impersonate. It was an extremely creative solution to illustrating this portion of Vladek’s story

One of the most amazing parts that I was really surprised to see in the book was Art’s own thoughts about the Holocaust. Art was born after the Holocaust in Sweden and grew up in Queens, New York, but it was interesting to see that he had a lot of guilt regarding the Holocaust. His older brother, Richeu, was sent to live with an aunt when the Germans began rounding up Jews and putting them in ghettos.  (Her ghetto was deemed safer than the one Vladek and Anja lived in) As the ghettos began to be liquidated, Art’s aunt poisoned Richeu, her niece, her daughter, and herself as not to be sent to the concentration camps. It pains Art because he feels as if he isn’t as deserving to be alive because he didn’t experience it. In the beginning of the second volume, he visits with his therapist and he brings this up, which was interesting to read/see. It made me think, can we have guilt for something we don’t have any control over? We don’t have any control over what happened before we were born, but is it possible to still feel bad for it? It made me also made me wonder if any of the survivors of the Holocaust or any other tragic historical events have survivor’s guilt.

All in all, I think Maus is a great way to learn about the Holocaust. It is extremely informative, but also has a heart in the middle of this terrible story. It allows the reader to laugh at the flashbacks of Art’s conversations with his father, and really get emotional learning first hand what it was like. Art was great at drawing the reader in. Whether it was the dialogue or the illustrations, I could not put this book down. Even when the story got deeper and a lot sadder I was enthralled by it and couldn’t sleep until I was done. If you are just starting to learn about the Holocaust, know a lot about the Holocaust and are looking for another source to read, or are just in the mood to read an excellent graphic novel, I would recommend this work 1000%. Definitely a must read for anyone over the age of 14. (Note: some of the material regarding the death camps is very heavy and may not be appropriate for younger readers)

5 out of 5 Stars

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
Pantheon (1993)
Paperback
ISBN: 9780679748403