Maus: A Survivor’s Tale review

Hadley Hudson, Co-Editor in Chief

In the book Maus, a Survivor’s Tale, Art Spiegelman, the son of a Polish Jew and a survivor of the Holocaust, writes and illustrates a graphic novel centered around his father’s experience during the second world war. Written more than 30 years ago, the graphic novel made a huge difference in the world of comics and was awarded some of the greatest literary achievements a work can receive. Maus won the Pulitzer prize in 1992. Maus is also hailed as the greatest graphic novel of all time.

Maus involves a relatively simple idea as its concept: Nazis are cats and Jews are mice. Spiegelman wrote the novel by transcribing his father’s oral story of his life. Switching between scenes of Spiegelman and his father as he tells the story in the “present” time and the “past” storyline of his father’s experiences, Maus spans generations and tells a story with unique depth. Spiegelman explores his life with his father as his adult son, where their relationship is uncomfortable at times when it is not focused solely on the story of his past. His father gives a detailed account of his everyday life during the war, including business while in Polish ghettos and the slow tightening of “the noose” of regulations for Polish Jews. Spiegelman’s father goes from wealthy textile factory owner to Polish soldier to Jewish prisoner of war to ghetto inhabitant to Auschwitz occupant. Overall, the novel pulls together the past and present and the themes within them to form a story about family, strength, and the generational span of trauma.

When I was young and curious about the contents of my father’s bookshelf, I remember seeing the cover of Maus among the other books. I still remember seeing it because of the cover with a big swastika in the middle of the page. I remember feeling conflicted about the book because I knew that the symbol was bad, but I couldn’t read it to find out why it was there. That eerie feeling I had when I saw the powerful and haunting symbol expanded to my feelings while reading the novel as well. At times, I had to put the book down for a moment before carrying on because the message and the overall story was so powerful.

Usually when I learn about the Holocaust, it is in a purposely sad and grieving light. Through documentaries and other media, that mood is completely understandable and it would be inappropriate without it. In Maus, Spiegelman writes in a way that is not glaringly sorrowful, through a medium that translates the story differently and appropriately. His father went through a horrible experience, but to him it isn’t a simple story. To him, it was his life. He processed difficult situations the same way all people process trauma. His one focus was to keep himself and his family alive. He adapted and adjusted to his surroundings, and his treatment became normal after adjustment. The horrors he experienced became nothing when he saw them so constantly. Reading his story through his eyes, directly transcribed in his own words through the English he learned later in his life, and reading the way he shared his life with his son, is incredibly impactful. Every little detail about the story is impactful. It isn’t a sob story. It isn’t a heroic story either. It is the story about a man trying to live, and that is what makes it impactful.

I usually do not have a section like this in the reviews I write, but I strongly recommend this book. It is a book that changed the way comics were produced and accepted by society. The book deserved all of the recognition it gets, and I believe that more people should read it today. It is not a story that becomes outdated. I strongly agree that Maus is the best graphic novel that has been written.