June 25, 2009

Maus I

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
Nonfiction - Graphic Memoir
1986 Pantheon
Winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize
Finished on 6/13/09
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Maus is the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler's Europe, and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father, his father's terrifying story, and History itself. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), succeeds perfectly in shocking us out of any lingering sense of familiarity with the events described, approaching, as it does, the unspeakable through the diminutive. It is, as the New York Times Book Review has commented, "a remarkable feat of documentary detail and novelistic vividness...an unfolding literary event."

Moving back and forth from Poland to Rego Park, New York, Maus tells two powerful stories: The first is Spiegelman's father's account of how he and his wife survived Hitler's Europe, a harrowing tale filled with countless brushes with death, improbable escapes, and the terror of confinement and betrayal. The second is the author's tortured relationship with his aging father as they try to lead a normal life of minor arguments and passing visits against a backdrop of history too large to pacify. At all levels, this is the ultimate survivor's tale--and that, too, of the children who somehow survive even the survivors.

Part I of Maus takes Spiegelman's parents to the gates of Auschwitz and him to the edge of despair. Put aside all your preconceptions. These cats and mice are not Tom and Jerry, but something quite different. This is a new kind of literature.

It's been years since I first heard about this book and I'm glad I finally got around to getting a copy to read. I've never read a graphic novel (although that's a misnomer for this work, as it's not fiction but rather a memoir), so I wasn't sure what to expect. Would the cartoons distract me? Would they minimize the horrors of the Holocaust? Surprisingly, I found I didn't spend too much time looking at the drawings and wondered if this was common or if a true graphic novel demands more attention to the artwork. And I certainly didn't think this form of narrative did anything to minimize the severity of the story. If anything, its impact might actually have been enhanced, rather than minimized, by the fact that it's such a horrible story told in a medium normally reserved for more innocent, child-like pursuits.

is a deeply moving story, especially knowing it's Spiegelman's father's true history. In spite of the subject matter, I enjoyed this compelling book (as well as one can enjoy such a tragic tale) and I look forward to reading Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began.
Go here to listen to an excellent NPR interview with Art Spiegelman.


  1. I can't believe that's your first graphic novel? So, do you think you'll read more?

    I haven't read Maus but I do think with graphic novels in general I feel like I have to do almost two reads... One for the story and another to see the pictures. Especially I felt that the first few graphic novels I read.

  2. I was moved beyond words after reading both volumes of Spiegelman's father's story. For me, the drawings really made a huge impact on me and brought the story to life. I feel that this would be an excellent books to use in high school to engage that reluctant reader. This is a medium that hasn't received a lot of attention in the past but I feel that it is starting to get the raves it deserves.

  3. Anonymous6:13 PM

    I didn't know this won a Pulitzer! Now I really need to grab it, as I'm trying to accomplish all the Pulitzer's before I die. That, or all the Robert Parker books. ;)

  4. I read this and its sequel at the beginning of the year and would probably rate them about the same as you! I second Iliana, do you think you will read anymore graphic novels? I used to refuse to read them, but they have found their way into my reading this year.

  5. When I took my sons out for our annual last day of school lunch/shopping date last week, Maus is the book my 17 year old picked. I did not realize it had won a Pulitzer either. To my knowledge he hasn't started it yet as I gave him some assigned reading, but I think he will soon. I think I will grab it after he is done with it!

  6. Iliana - I know! I can't believe it either! I will probably read more, but it will be more along the lines of a graphic novel and not Manga. Just not interested in that genre. Do you have any favorite graphic novels you would recommend?

    Staci - I agree. These would be great books for high school or even middle school. Definitely planning to read the second!

    Bellezza - I think I've read more Pulitzers than Parker books. I have a feeling you'll like Maus.

    Kailana - Feel free to give me a few recommendations for your favorite graphic novels. :)

    Kim - It's a very quick read. You could easily get it read in a day or two.


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