Book Review: The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Title: The Complete Maus

Author: Art Spiegelman

Genre: Graphic Novel Memoir

Number of Pages: 296

Rating: B+

Recommended?: Yes


I liked this book but I didn’t love it, which seems wrong somehow; this seems like one of those books everyone loves. It’s a historically interesting, dense (for a graphic novel) exploration of generational trauma and a father’s damaged relationship with his son. Art Spiegelman’s father Vladek was a Holocaust survivor and his wife (also a survivor) committed suicide because of the trauma she’d been through.

He got together with a new woman who he didn’t even seem to like (and who obviously couldn’t hold a candle to his dead wife) and Art Spiegelman wanted to learn more about his father’s story. The problem was that his he and his dad seemed to fight whenever they were in the same room together.

Even though this book is non-fiction all the people in it are portrayed as anthropomorphized animals. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, and the Poles are pigs. The artwork was weird and I felt like it lacked detail in some ways. I found myself wishing the panels and the print were a little larger because it was sometimes hard to see what was happening.

Even though the Holocaust story is heart-wrenching, I think the most interesting aspect of the graphic novel was Spiegelman and his dad’s relationship. I felt like I really got to know his dad and his idiosyncrasies and how frustrating he could be over the course of the book. He felt like he could be somebody in my family.

He wasn’t very likable but you wanted to give him the benefit of a doubt because of what he had been through. It was ironic that he hated and feared Blacks considering what was done to him by racists. I felt like Art pushed his dad too hard for stories about his past at times. I mean, it had to be emotionally difficult for him remembering that stuff.

I also appreciated that Spiegelman was willing to portray himself as a troubled and ambivalent son with somewhat self-serving motives. Maus does manage to stand out from other Holocaust books, and not just because of its anthropomorphism elements. It’s a particularly good pick for people who are interested in reading more ‘serious’ graphic novels and history buffs- it’s not every day that a graphic novel wins the Pulitzer Prize and is removed from a school’s reading lists for mouse nudity.

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