Immerse yourself in Art Spiegelman's innovative masterpiece, a seminal narrative that explores themes of guilt, identity, and survival in powerful ways. Read our Maus review.

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Maus is an award-wining and emotionally charged graphic novel that serves as a powerful reminder of the horrors inflicted during the Holocaust. Written by Art Spiegelman, this critically acclaimed work tells the story of his father’s experience during World War II through a unique combination of words and images. By exploring themes such as guilt, identity, and survival, Maus offers profound insights into one of history’s darkest chapters.

This article offers a comprehensive review of the novel and shares some information about Art Spiegelman.

The themes and story of Maus

Maus is a two-part graphic novel by Art Spiegelman, an American cartoonist, published by Pantheon Books. It’s an emotionally charged examination of the Holocaust and its impact on one family.

Maus follows the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz and other concentration camps during World War II. Maus was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, making it the first graphic novel ever to receive this honor. The book tells Vladek’s story through flashbacks as he recounts his experiences in Hitler’s Europe to his son Art, who serves as both narrator and illustrator for the novel.

The first installment (called Maus: A Survivor’s Tale and subtitled My Father Bleeds History) begins with Spiegelman’s father reminiscing about his childhood in Poland before the war broke out. When Nazi Germany invades Poland in 1939, Vladek and his family flee to safety in Russia. But when Russia falls under German occupation in 1941, they are forced to return home to Sosnowiec, where they face persecution from their German oppressors. Vladek survives several concentration camps before eventually being liberated from Auschwitz in 1945.

The second volume, titled Maus II: Here My Troubles Began, takes place shortly after Vladek’s liberation from Auschwitz, where the holocaust survivor reunites with his wife Anja who had been sent away before him. The two find refuge at a displaced persons camp where they eventually marry and emigrate to America after the war ends.

In New York City, they start anew but soon struggle financially due to difficulties finding work and adapting to American life. Eventually, Art visits them as an adult and learns more about his father’s wartime experiences while trying to piece together the cause of his mother’s suicide.

From artwork depicting menacing cats representing Nazis and Poles juxtaposed against mice representing Jews, Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus provides insight into how human beings can be divided by race or religion but still maintain their humanity no matter the circumstances.

Maus was first published as a serialized comic strip in the magazine Raw and eventually released as a book entitled The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Pantheon Books in 1986. Since then, several other editions have been published by Pantheon Books, Random House, and the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, among other publishers. Spiegelman has also published a sequel – MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus – which further discusses some of the themes in the original book. 

Aside from Pulitzer Prize-winning acclaim, Art Spiegelman’s Maus was also met with widespread success, becoming both a New York Times bestseller and part of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best English Language Novels Since 1923. The New Yorker has described Maus as “the first masterpiece in comic book history.”

The New York Times bestseller has also become an integral part of high school reading curriculums across the United States. It has been featured on Holocaust Remembrance Day programs alongside works such as Satrapi’s Persepolis and The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.

But that doesn’t mean the book hasn’t had its own controversy. In January 2021, A Tennessee school board announced Maus’ removal from the eighth-grade English language arts curriculum, citing nudity and profane language. One board member from McMinn county, Tony Allman, is quoted as saying: “It shows them killing kids. Why does the education system promote this kind of stuff?”

The ban immediately attracted worldwide attention and was extensively covered by the media across the U.S., with most Americans calling for the board to reverse its decision. In fact, the ban catapulted Maus’s sales to No. 1 on Amazon.

About the artist behind Maus

Art Spiegelman is an internationally acclaimed American cartoonist. He was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1948 to Polish parents with a Jewish heritage. His parents survived the Holocaust and fled the war-torn continent for a safer life.

Spiegelman spent his early years living in New York City, where he began exploring his passion for art from a young age. He received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and went on to become one of the most influential figures in the alternative comics movement of the 1970s.

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What age is Maus appropriate for?

Maus is recommended for children aged 6 and up.

Is Maus a true story?

Maus does consist of true stories within its pages, but some elements are fictionalized for impact.

What is the author’s opinion of the Holocaust?

Rather than describing it as something to be avoided or looked away from, Spiegelman believes it’s important for people today to confront history head-on to be educated about humanity’s capacity for evil and its consequences.

Did the author of Maus die?

As of 2023, Art Spiegelman is still alive.

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