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The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

The Complete Maus (edition 1996)

by Art Spiegelman

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4,2531351,167 (4.53)1 / 236
Summary: Maus is part memoir and part history lesson; about half Holocaust story, and half a tale of Spiegleman's relationship with his aging father, a Holocaust survivor. Art spends most of the book coaxing his father Vladek to talk to him about his life in Poland before WWII, his time in the Jewish ghetto, and how he survived the concentration camps. All the while he must deal with not only the normal storm of emotions that come with having an aging, fallible parent, but also the added guilt that comes from knowing that parent survived one of the worst horrors of human history, when so many others did not.

Review: There are two things that, in my mind, elevate Maus from being just another Holocaust story to really being something unique, and something special. First, the decision to present the story in comic form, and second, the inclusion of the framing story of Art and his father. Both of those were risky choices that could easily have backfired, but in the end, I think both of them worked to Spiegleman's advantage.

On the first point: if nothing else, Maus deserves a huge amount of credit for proving that just because it's a comic does not necessarily mean that the story or the subject matter is trivial. The decision to depict everyone involved as animals (Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Polish are pigs, French are frogs, Americans are dogs, etc.) could have easily become silly and made everything inappropriately cutesy, but I think it actually allowed both Spiegleman and the reader to explore the horror of the story without being thoroughly overwhelmed, and while the characters were literally de-humanized, the underlying humanity of the story bled through on every page. The animalizing of the characters did make them all look somewhat alike - it's harder to draw hundreds of distinct-looking mice than it would be for humans - but it was always clear from the context what was going on, and who was supposed to be in the panel.

The meta-story, of Art dealing with his father, was another brave choice that worked out wonderfully well. Vladek Spiegleman is not a particularly pleasant man; he's so frugal that he's almost miserly, he fights constantly with his wife, has no qualms about emotionally manipulating his son, and is more than a little bit racist. At the same time, you just can't think those things about a Holocaust survivor - he's been through so much, shouldn't he be allowed to be difficult if he wants to be? By letting Vladek tell the story in his own voice, Art lets us wrestle with these issues for ourselves, and thus gives us an inside view on his own emotional struggles. It makes the book not just about surviving the Holocaust, but what it's like to deal with - and to be - a Holocaust survivor.

There were a few meta-meta-story bits that I'm still not sure whether I liked or not. Spiegleman, in the comic, talking about the process of writing the comic, or to his therapist about dealing with the success of the comic, etc. (on one occasion drawn as human but with a tied-on mouse mask) - on the one hand, these things all break the fourth wall and were kind of distracting, but on the other hand, they also add an interesting layer of complexity to the story.

Recommendation: Overall, it's an amazing book, if not a particularly comfortable one to read, and it's one that I suspect will stay with me for a long time, and that I think will convince even the most ardent graphic-novel hater that the medium can be used to powerful effect. 4.5 out of 5 stars. ( )
1 vote fyrefly98 | Jun 12, 2010 |
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A great way to tell a very harsh story. I found this unrelenting but very readable. An original way to tell such a story. ( )
  Laurochka | Feb 6, 2016 |
This graphic novel is the story of Spiegelman's father, Vladek, a Polish Jew who lived through World War II. The Jews are drawn as mice, the Germans as cats, and the Poles as pigs. Vladek was able to keep himself and his family out of the concentration camps for a long time, but eventually he was sent to Auschwitz, and later into Germany. After the war, he was able to find his wife and move to Sweden, then the US. Interspersed with Vladek's stories about the war are panels showing Artie's relationship with his father and how he learned his father's history.

This is a really powerful book, and the animals are a great metaphor. Vladek's story of how he survived through his intelligence is really fascinating and admirable. What I really didn't like was how the author portrayed himself, however. In the book it seems like Artie is only using his father to create a masterpiece and doesn't really care about him. He only visits to get more of the story and then can't wait to get away from his father. I realize that Vladek was a difficult person to be around, but that doesn't excuse Artie's behavior. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
Art Spiegleman tells the story of his father Valdek and his mother Anja. Both were Poles who eventually ended up in Auschwitz. Art also tells a more current story of dealing with his elderly father who is very cheap and independent. I think the fact that the book is a graphic novel gives a bit of a unique spin on the story. I found Art to be a bit annoying, especially in his fights with his father, but overall a good book. ( )
  RachelNF | Jan 15, 2016 |
A memoir on the holocaust in graphic novel. A son is writing about his father's experiences. ( )
  i.should.b.reading | Jan 15, 2016 |
Maus I is a graphic novel that tells the true story of the author's (Art Spiegleman) father's experiences as a Jewish man in Poland during WWII. The symbolism in the novel is great. Different types of people are represented by different animals; Jews are mice, Nazi's are cats, Non-Jewish Polish are pigs, Americans are dogs, etc. When the characters try to blend in with the non-Jewish population, they wear pig masks. The first book (Maus I...the story is continued in Maus II) covers the onset of the war as the situation keeps getting worse and worse for the Polish Jews. It ends with the main characters being sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The characters are shown with all their flaws, there are scenes that take place in the present where the Author is visiting his father to get his story and the author worries that his father will come across as a sterotype. I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the Holocaust. It definitely is a unique presentation of a serious and important story. ( )
  Cora-R | Jan 13, 2016 |
Art Spiegelman is so sincere and honest as to inspire admiration for his courage to show his feelings, and to write about the ways each participant of this tragedy tries to overcome its legacy. This comic-book made me feel ashamed of myself as a human being. Every one should read it, lest one forgets. It's a burden on one's soul, but a very needed one. ( )
  sturmer | Oct 25, 2015 |
Three letters: W-O-W. I was truly amazed by this book and fully understand the Pulitzer the author received for it.

The format is brilliant: the book you're holding and reading is actually being developed and written in front of your eyes. The constant switch between present day and war memories force you to take the cruelty of it all in more wholly.

The content is brilliant too: there are two narratives to follow: the present day Spiegelman and the past Spiegelman. Perhaps I found the relationship between the author and this father even more appalling than the war story.

In short, this is a truly amazing book and I loved and hated it beginning to end. For days I had an awkward feeling in my chest and I'm still struggling ordering my thoughts on it.

What an impact a book can have on your life... ( )
  bbbart | May 30, 2015 |
When I read this book in 8th grade, I was mystified. It's not hard to get me into historical novels, but historical graphic novels? I was practically drooling when I got my hands on it. The art was amazing, and the story was better. For me personally, it is The Diary of Anne Frank of graphic novels. ( )
  Wabbajack | Oct 23, 2014 |
The real horror of the Auschwitz concentration camps and the nazi rule captured in a heart rending manner. ( )
  aeromaxtran | Sep 17, 2014 |
I really like the way this book is narrated, it tell the story of one of the survivors from the holocaust. It also shows his relation with his son and the problems that they have through the years, and how the creation of this book put them closer. The narrative is very well done and he manage to show us a terrible episode of humanity. After you finish reading you understand why it won the Pulitzer prize. ( )
  CaroPi | Jun 22, 2014 |
I avoided reading this book for a long time because I thought I’d heard enough stories about surviving the Holocaust. And the idea of reducing it to a story of cats and mice did not seem appealing. Probably I would not have read it had Spiegelman not been the subject of a feature show at the Vancouver Art Gallery where I was intrigued enough to pick up the book. Nevertheless, I found the story compelling at several levels.
As a personal tale of survival, the story that Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, tells his son is extraordinary – the schemes to get through the early years of Nazi-occupied Poland, the trade-offs in the concentration camp and extermination camp, the forced march and train transport, the German death camp, these are hard enough to imagine, but Vladek’s ingenuity in finding ways to gain enough advantage to survive shows his forceful and resourceful personality. The fact that his wife, Anja (whom he portrays as more feeble), survives as well, while all of their family are killed, is even more extraordinary. Discovering the details of how an individual survives under such extreme circumstances is an interesting story in itself.
On another level is the psychological impact of the story on the survivors. We know that Vladek’s strong personality is key to his survival (although we know little about how Anja survives). It’s not surprising that this takes a warped form when his son Art knows him as a demanding, bullying tyrant who scrimps and hoards even after building a secure and comfortable life in the USA. Anja commits suicide when Art is in his 20s, and Vladek seems to have an intolerable relationship with his new wife, Mala. (He seems paranoid and misreads Mala’s motives as venal, which leads one to wonder about his characterization of Anja, too.) Of course, Art finds him impossible to live with, or even visit, but he is drawn to his father out of a sense of loyalty or guilt, and wants to understand Vladek’s story. He presents the story and his reaction to it in an unadorned way as if he understands little beyond the surface, with little comment beyond his own editing of the story and his frustration in trying to capture it.
While initially I felt that the drawing style was simple and crude, the imagery does add a great deal to the story line, making it both concrete and abstract at the same time. The horrors are expressed economically, showing the details without extensive description, but they still require an act of imagination on the part of the reader to make them meaningful. The animal characters are highly arbitrary and sometimes troubling (Poles as pigs? French as frogs?). If they make it easier for some readers to approach the topic, then perhaps that is sufficient justification, but it’s hard to avoid stereotypical characterizations and a fairy-tale-like story.
And while this is an attempt to record a specific historical event, the animal story seems to take it out of any historical context. Certainly there is no attempt to describe the social and political context of Europe in the 1930s and 40s, and this is just a story of one person’s experience and how it marked him. I suppose other books have to describe the context, but in a sense this just becomes a bogey-man story of good animals and bad ones when the story is decontextualized in this way.
This is a worthy and compelling story, but it raises questions about historical story-telling which may be as valuable as the story itself. ( )
  rab1953 | Jun 13, 2014 |
I read the first half and it was amazing. The relstionship between th father and son drove me away from the second half, though. I really found the flashbacks to the father's experiences in WWII to be fascinating, but the current relationship at times seemed more painful than the holocost scenes. Still worth a read, though. ( )
  sbloom42 | May 21, 2014 |
I love this set of graphic novels. It is a new way of sharing a Holocaust story. Spiegelman tells the story of his father as if it were a fable - using animals instead of people in his drawings. This dehumanization of the characters actually helps humanize them even more by visually illustrating the way that the Nazis and many of their followers saw people different from them. The interjections where we see Spiegelman converse with his father in the present does not interrupt the flow of the story; instead, it is as if the reader is a bystander as a friend's parents or grandparents tell a story about their past. The graphic novel format allows Spiegelman to use great illustrations and short, impactful sentences to tell a great story. ( )
  est-lm | May 3, 2014 |
My husband recommended this to me after seeing it on a list of the greatest graphic novels. I shrugged and said that I would add it to my long to-read list. Eventually I got a copy from the library, and sat down to read it. Wow, that is all I can really say. Art Spiegelman made a comic of his father's experience during World War Two. From the rise of the Nazis to his time in Auschwitz, I was hooked. Part of me wanted to put the book down, because the story was too intimate. The other part of me wanted to read on, fascinated by the story of Vladek Spiegelman's life. After I finished reading it, I just sat for a while taking it all in. This is a story that will stick with me for a long time. I highly recommend it. ( )
  wincrow | Apr 25, 2014 |
It's hard to figure out how to rate or review this. I mean, do you rate it as art? As a story? Or as non-fiction? As something in between, that nonetheless tries to express the truth? I quite liked Spiegelman's style: the panels were maybe a little too busy at times, but the drawings had character and life.

More importantly, I think in writing his father's story, Art Spiegelman managed to capture something we can be prone to forget: the Jews were not necessarily all nice people, all innocent victims and young girls like Anne Frank. There were greedy Jews, Jews who survived because they were quick-thinking and put themselves first, Jews with horrible opinions and so on. Art Spiegelman's father Vladek isn't a pleasant character in many ways, but what he goes through and the finer aspects of him show us that it doesn't matter what kind of people the Jews who suffered and died were, they didn't deserve Auschwitz and Dachau and all the other concentration camps. We don't need an idealised innocent young girl to know what happened for the horror it was -- that might make it easier on us, but to me it's equally important to remember collaborators and cowards, the everyman and the rich banker and even the ones who stole each others' food or lorded it over them to survive. Half of those horrors were created by the conditions anyway.

Which is to say... there were no perfect people. It's a mistake to forget that, to forget that we're still talking about humans all their messy glory. Maus reminds us pretty firmly that horrific things can happen to people who aren't that nice themselves, and remain horrific.

So all in all, I don't know that I like it much, but it's one of those things where I have to consider the work that went into it and what it says, what it does, more than my personal enjoyment or not. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 16, 2014 |
A truly excellent graphic novel portraying the harsh realities of lif during the holocaust ( )
  mccandlessn | Apr 6, 2014 |
Maus tells the story of Vladek, a Holocaust survivor living in New York. His son Art (also the author), interviews his father about his time spent dodging capture as well as his imprisonment at Auschwitz. Vladek recounts those who helped him, who betrayed him and the Nazis who murdered his friends and family. When not revisiting the past, Art explores his own current relationship with his father as well as his Dad’s obsession with money that both frustrates and ultimately alienates his second wife Mala.

I really struggled with what to say about this one. It's often difficult to even imagine that this really happened. How could a group of people be so ruthless and disgusting? I certainly do not want to come across as being able to identify with the smallest shred of what Vladeck went through - no one born in the Western world within my generation could come close to experiencing that nightmare. We're taught in school about the atrocities committed against the Jewish population during World War II, we've watched movies like Schindler's List, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Sound of Music or even Inglorious Basterds and while they're powerful films in their own right, they could never truly convey the horror those people went through.

There are parts in Art Spiegelman's Maus that shook me to my core, parts that both disturbed me and left me feeling nauseous. The Jewish population had been a sub-human class to the Nazis and were treated as such. Vladek's descriptions of the ovens, the gas chambers and at one point, urinating on deceased men, women and children were horrifying.

What shocked me the most is that it's hard to even like Vladek at times, or Art for that matter. In a weird way, I think that’s what I liked most about the book. It would be easy for the author to lean heavily on Vladek's experiences and paint both narrators in extremely broad strokes but instead he's quite critical of both himself and Vladek. Art does not sugar coat the way he treats Vladek at all, often demeaning him and ridiculing him for his thrifty lifestyle. For example, there's a scene where Vladek tries to return a half eaten box of cereal to the grocery store as he couldn't finish it. Waiting in the parking lot, Art sinks into his seat suffering from embarrassment. Art cracks a few jokes in the car and condemns his father for such an act. However, Vladek is no better when a few panels later, he becomes enraged when they pick up a black man hitchhiking, fearful that their new passenger will swipe their food. When comparing his blatant racism to that of Hitler’s vendetta against the Jewish population, Vladek shrugs it off saying, "It's not even to compare, the schwartzers and the Jews!"

The artwork itself is nothing particularly spectacular but in all honesty, it doesn't need to be. Other readers have speculated that Spiegelman used a minimalist technique so as not to distract from the importance of the story itself. While there are a few pretty shocking drawings, the majority of the visuals are closer shots and are heavy on the dialogue. Seems a lot of people criticized Spiegelman after its initial release due the assignment of certain citizens to a respective animal (i.e. Germans were cats, Jewish people were mice, Poles were pigs, Americans were dogs, the French were frogs, etc). It may be just my opinion but if you're honestly offended by the character portrayals, I don't think you're paying attention to what the author is trying to give to his audience. If a group of Canadian beavers or moose showed up, I wouldn't ask for my money back.

Cross Posted @ Every Read Thing ( )
  branimal | Apr 1, 2014 |
It seems a bit silly to write a review of Maus, because its greatness isn’t really a matter of opinion. It just is. So if this reads a little more like an advertisement, an effort to make sure everyone knows about this and has a chance to read it, then I hope you’ll understand.

Maus is a story about a man getting to know his father. Maus is a story about life as a Jewish man in Poland during the Holocaust. Maus is a story about a difficult family relationship. Maus is a story about mental health. Maus is a story about survival. Maus is a story about how essential, life-saving behaviors and habits can seem ludicrous when survival is no longer a struggle. Maus is a story about how trauma affects us and how that in turn affects everyone around us. Maus is a story about how essential we are to one another, even when we can’t stand each other. Maus is a story about marriages. Maus is a story about loss. Maus is a story about the overwhelming presence of absence. Maus is a story about immigration. Maus is a story about ingenuity. Maus is a story about real, living history.

It’s a great book and an amazing comic. Just go read it already. ( )
  JLSmither | Mar 18, 2014 |
Powerful. ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
This was my first graphic novel and was surprised by the genre's ability to tell a story so well. Read this for book club and I think it was probably one of the best book discussions we had as a group. ( )
  dms02 | Feb 27, 2014 |
I feel like I'll need to re-read The Complete Maus a few times to fully appreciate it. As a straightforward description, Art Spielgelman's story is his own father's story of surviving the Holocaust. Though good stories are never that simple. Some moments are heartbreaking; some are deadpan funny. And still others are strangely disquieting, like for example the author trying to figure out how to say what he wants to say while he's saying it to the reader. (Art Spielgelman is, after all, a character in Maus and is more or less the hinge of the whole tale as he gathers his father's recollections.) Another factor that contributes to the book's brilliance and certainly to its unconventionality is the use of animals to portray the different races, e.g. Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs. This changes the conversation on racism some though I think it was a nice touch given the medium.

I recommend that any fan of graphic novels have a look at this one. But have patience. It may be slow going before Maus really connects. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | Feb 18, 2014 |
Maus (a Holocaust memoir comic) is such a brilliant book, but it's incredibly draining to read. I had to take breaks just to get away from the bleakness of it.

It really is a perfect use of the comic medium, though. The Jews are depicted as (humanoid) mice, the Germans as cats. Without the cartoonishness it would be unbearably graphic. The heavily-accented dialogue from the author's Jewish father Vladek also works well as short, streamlined comic dialogue.

A difficult read, but a masterpiece. ( )
  EMaree | Feb 11, 2014 |

To elaborate further:
I thought that the novels were amazingly intricate, and it was very obvious that the author had spent a lot of time thinking about all the different layers of art and story, either that or he's a complete genius, or both.
I also thought the story was very balanced, and provided a way for the more average of us to have an honest dialog with Holocaust victims who survived such horrendous abuse that we can't even imagine.
I am really glad that this narrative was rendered as a graphic novel, because not only does it prove that the genre can handle meaningful subjects and his choice of a more abstract style adds a whole new dimension to the piece. ( )
  swampygirl | Dec 9, 2013 |
I’ve never read a graphic novel (aka comic book) before, but I was recommended to pick up Maus by River City Reading and Estella’s Revenge, so I grabbed copies of both books (Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale” My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began) from the library.

Wow. Maus I tells a dual story. One part is author and comic writer Art Spiegelman’s experience with his father, Vladek, while getting the story of the Holocaust from him. The second part is Vladek’s tale of Holocaust survival, from his time as a young man in Poland before meeting his wife (Art’s mother, Anja) all the way to Anja and Vladek’s capture by the German Nazi soldiers.

For the full review, visit Love at First Book ( )
  LoveAtFirstBook | Nov 7, 2013 |
That's not really anything I can say about the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus that hasn't already been said. Spigelman writes about his tense relationship with his father Vladek and about the process of recording his father's story as a Holocaust survivor.

There are plenty of Holocaust books out there, but this was particularly emotionally hard-hitting for me. I think that had to do with the fact that Vladek was recalling memories, rather than living in the moment, and pointing out things he learned later that made the panicked decisions all the more devastating. For instance, Vladek wanted to send his son off early in the war with a couple who would protect the child but his wife refused, wanting the family to stay together; his son ultimately died while another child sent to live with that couple survived. Other examples abound of such horrible twists of fate and the randomness of who survived and who did not. Decisions that seemed the most logical and safe often resulted in the worse turns for the family's fortunes.

Another thing that made this story so poignantly heart-breaking was knowing that events depicted were true. It is one thing to read a Holocaust story that depicts what *could* have happened to a fictional character (and is very likely what *did* happened to many) as opposed to reading the actual events that occurred to one person. Yet the book is not a dry nonfiction book, but one that draws you into Vladek's story and plight. Spigelman opens with Vladek's life in Poland several years before the war starts, presenting both a contrast between the living situation for Jews before and after Nazi occupation as well as providing a glimpse of the man whose story we will be following.

Vladek tells his story fairly matter-of-fact, without indulging himself much by way of self-pity but rather just presenting the events as they unfolded. Nonetheless, Vladek notes at times particular things that most deeply affected him and visions that still haunt him. And in the scenes occurring between father and son in the "present" of the story, it's obvious that Vladek suffers from some survivor's guilt and that his actions today often harkened back to those horrible years of his life. For instance, at one point, Vladek does not want to let go of a half-eaten box of cereal even though no one left in the house wants to eat that particular brand. His justification for not wasting the food is that "ever since Hitler I don't like to throw out even a crumb" - a completely understandable response from a man who nearly starved to death on many occasions. Nevertheless, Vladek's actions often drive Spigelman crazy and their relationship is taut.

This brings me to another reason why this book is so compelling - it's not just Vladek's story but also Spigelman's story of growing up with two Auschwitz survivors and dealing with his own personal demons. There's less of his story but enough to draw the reader in and keep her or him interested in the relationship between the two. The comic-within-the-comic of Spigelman's earlier work related to his emotional turmoil after his mother's death is equally absorbing for the same reason.

Much has been noted about the format of this book - a Holocaust story as a comic book/graphic novel is virtually unheard of outside of Maus. Honestly, I'm not sure how much the illustrative nature of the book added for me. I was so absorbed by the story I was reading that I barely stopped to examine the illustrations and mostly brushed over them (although to be fair, in many cases the illustrations were pretty basic). However, every once in a while, there would be an image that I found particularly well done and added to the emotional impact of the story. For instance, when Vladek mentions how seeing some dead Jewish people hanging as examples to others who would dare to cross the Nazis was a sight that continues to haunt him, Spigelman draws first a panel with the past Vladek seeing the hanging bodies realistically depicted as he hurries past them and then a panel with the current Vladek against a backdrop of the oversized dangling bodies looming behind him. Overall, I'm not sure that this book *needed* to be illustrated. However, as the characters themselves point out in the book, turning Vladek's story into a comic book opened up this tale of a woe to an audience that might not otherwise read it. (On the flip side, I'm guessing that this important story - in addition to the recognition it garnered - turned some readers to a format they wouldn't usually read.)

Another notable thing about Maus is that while the story is all true, Spigelman chose to represent the people in it as animals - mice for Jews, cats for Nazis, pigs for Poles, dogs for Americans, reindeer for Swedes, and predictably, frogs for the French. Besides the obvious cat-and-mouse metaphor, I'm not entirely sure that the animals-as-Holocaust-actors did that much for me. I suppose seeing cartoonish animals rather than realistic people possibly lessened the horror of certain images, but the overall terror, sadness, and sheer lunacy of the Holocaust still came through clear as day.

At any rate, I highly recommend Maus as an absorbing and compelling story of one man's survival of Hitler's campaign against the Jews. The book will take you on an emotional rollercoaster, but it's one that's worth the ride for the importance of the tale being told. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Oct 14, 2013 |
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