Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Complete Maus

by Art Spiegelman

25th Anniversary Edition
Pantheon Books, 2011
296 pages

Every year close to Remembrance Day, I try to tell my students a bit about why Canada went to war. I give them some of the nasty details of the Holocaust including the story of Dr. Joseph Mengele known as the "Angel of Death." Lest the kids be overwhelmed by the gruesome detail and just memorize it for a quiz, I try to personalize my account. I tell my students about a little Dutch boy whose father was a member of the Dutch underground and then relate to them about the day Canadian troops came to liberate that boy's village. Then, when all those kids are mentally cheering the arrival of those soldiers, their fellow Canadians, I tell them that boy in the story is my dad.

In the same way, Maus personalizes the story of the Holocaust. It is the tale of the author's father, mother, and brother. While the father and mother live through the Holocaust, the brother doesn't. Though the mother fails to cope with her experiences - ultimately committing suicide - the father is left cruelly scared as well. Much of the book shows how the father has been emotionally wounded, and how his son - the author - is affected by this as well.

Being a graphic novel, there is a curious visual convention that is used. All the characters are portrayed as animals; the Poles as pigs, the Jews as mice, the Germans as cats, and the Americans as dogs. There are some obvious reasons for those choices, but it's also interesting that the Germans are always ugly looking cats and the Americans are virtually always ridiculously friendly and helpful looking dogs.

The story is raw and filled with emotion. Being written as a graphic novel (a fancy term for a really big comic book) you not only read how people were starving in the camps, but you see it as well. You not only mentally visualize the compromises and moral trade offs that were made, you get to see them.


With raw emotions comes occasional use of raw language and this does include some profanity - God's name is used in vain. It's only two or three times in the book, and it is certainly true to the moment in the story but it shouldn't be there at all.


For an emotional appreciation of the suffering caused by the Holocaust not only during World War II but long after, this book likely can't be beat. You may not want to read it right before bedtime since the images have a way of lingering in your mind.

You can pick up a copy at here and here.

RELATED REVIEWS: Other graphic novels about war

1 comment:

  1. Just a note to Linus: I have a copy of "Maus" in my classroom, and any student who starts it cannot put it down. A thoughtful, compelling book.