23 January 2010

Book Review: The Complete Maus

Title: The Complete Maus
Author:  Art Spiegelman
Published:  1997  Pages: 296
Genre: Graphic Novel, Nonfiction

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Plot Synopsis
In Maus, Art Spiegelman graphically reveals the story of his father's time during World War II as well as the time his father spent telling him this story.

My Thoughts

Maus is a powerful book.  Spiegelman simultaneously discusses the art and pain of surviving the Holocaust, the difficult relationships between fathers and sons, and the confusion of a situation not experienced but still vital to a person's life.

On the one hand, I love this book.  I find the story moving, the artwork imaginative, and the themes intriguing.  On the other hand, I do not love this book as much as it seems others do.  This is not the quintessential Holocaust story for me.  Elie Wiesel's Night, David Faber's Because of Romek, Wesley Adamcyk's When God Looked the Other Way, these stories are just as, if not more, powerful for me.

I think what does set this apart is - obviously - the form the story took.  A holocaust story that is a graphic novel, complete with humans depicted as animals, is an entirely unique and daring concept.  And it worked.  Jews are portrayed as mice, Polish are pigs, Nazis are cats, Americans are dogs, Frenchmen are frogs, Swedes are reindeer, and so on, and yet I never felt that these portrayals were diminishing the ethnicity of the individual or the similarities between all humans.

Another major difference between Spiegelman's book and the other Holocaust stories I've read is the focus.  Maus is not focused solely on One Man's Story of the Holocaust.  The real focus seems to be the relationship between Art and his father, Vladek.  I would hazard a guess that at least a third of the book deals with the present instead of the past (WWII).  We see Vladek as an old man, narrating his story to his son, bickering with his wife; we see the tension between Art and Vladek, the flaws of a man who survived so much; we see the struggle Art had emotionally with writing this story.

These separate focuses..foci..are what I was not completely in love with.  I appreciate the honesty with which Art portrayed his father, showing his frugality, racism, and bitterness. I enjoyed the inclusion of an entire separate comic devoted to his mother's suicide.  I even found the section on  Art's success with the original Maus interesting.  But it was all this extra that makes me feel like this is not as powerful of a Holocaust story as the others I mentioned.  Maus is something different.

So my final thoughts...read it.

Memorable Scene: Vladek and Anja sent their son Richieu to live with his aunt Tosha in order to protect him.  When it seemed like Tosha and the children were to be sent to Auschwitz, Tosha poisoned herself, her daughter Bibi and her niece and nephew, Lonia and Richieu, to save them from a worse death. I have heard many stories like this, of an adult killing children to save them from the Nazis, and I can never decide if this is horrible cowardice or amazing mercy.

Memorable Quote: But here God didn't come.  We were all on our own.

Other Reviews
If I've missed yours, let me know!

things mean a lot; In Spring it is the Dawn; Rebecca Reads; books i done read; Books of Mee; Trish's Reading Nook; The Zen LeafBibliofreakblog;

Question:  Do you think the popularity of this book is due in large part to the originality of form?


Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, World ReligionsTake Another Chance, Graphic Novels Challenge,


  1. And here I was thinking, it's been a long time since you last posted! =)

    I've read this one, and definitely found it very interesting. Loved it.

    But I think you're probably right. It's not easy, I guess, to try and portray war via graphic means. And anyway, thanks for the suggestions of other book titles that deal with the Holocaust. I might be looking into some of them later on.

  2. I have had my eye on this for a long time. I never expected it to be the quintessential Holocaust story -- just something serious, thoughtful and unique. Thanks for the great review. Is this something that might be OK for kids (say ages 10+)?

  3. I agree other books on this subject were more powerful.

    I wish I could have gotten into this one, but I just couldn't.

  4. Michelle - It had definitely been awhile since I posted. The start of the semester is always a busy time for me so blogging and reading have to take a backseat. :)

    Stephanie - I would definitely let younger readers read this, but I'm also pretty liberal when it comes to stuff like this.

    Amanda - I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't want to marry this book.

  5. I've read this but haven't reviewed it. I'll review it now: I agree with everything you wrote.

  6. I think what I loved about it WAS the focus on the present as well as the past. True, it's a memoir of a son coming to terms with his father's experiences -- not a poignant first hand account of the holocaust. But for me, it showed the long term effects of a tragedy. It didn't just end and the book closed. Art is still struggling to come to terms with it!

    I haven't read some of the others you mention! I need to read more, obviously.

  7. Cara - I can't wait to read your review!

    Rebecca - Good point. The inclusion of the present does show the long term effects...primarily on Art. I mean, I can see how some of Vladek's grouchy old man personality could come from his Holocaust experiences, but then again I know quite a few grumpy, miserly old men who didn't go through WWII.

    It's possible I went in to this book with a false impression and high expectations.

  8. I've heard this book praised to the moon quite a few times ... but just this past week, I've read two "I didn't really love it" reviews (yours included). It sounds like it was a more personal book that happened to have Nazis in it rather than strictly a WWII book. Great review... very balanced and thoughtful.

  9. Jenners - You have it right Jenners. It was definitely a "more personal book that happened to have Nazis in it" and that is not what I was expecting.

  10. Great review! And wonderful for the World Religion Challenge. Are you doing the Graphic Novel Challenge as well?

    Here's my review:



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