Review: Maus - A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History

Title: Maus - A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History
Author: Art Spiegelman
Pages: 160
Genre: Graphic Novel
Release Date: November 1, 1991
Publisher: Pantheon
Source: Personal Copy

I think the Holocaust has to be one of the hardest periods in time on which to base a novel. How much descriptive detail does a writer need to provide? Should there be more focus on the fictional characters or the factual events that occurred during such a horrific tragedy. Art Spiegelman uses a graphic format to present the story of his parents during World War II as told by his father Vladek. The two have a very strained relationship, and many issues come up during the course of the novel that they must work through. I think this was almost a cathartic exercise for the author.

Does the medium fit the horror of the Holocaust? I think in some ways yes. Seeing the visual representations of certain things, such as the character of Artie’s graphic story of his mother’s suicide, were very gut-wrenching, and I definitely felt the effects more deeply than I would have with just the words. Sometimes it becomes easier to gloss over some of the more horrific aspects, but when there are pictures right in front of your eyes it’s a lot harder to ignore. Germans are represented as cats, the Jewish are represented as mice, and the Polish are represented as pigs. The artwork was minimal but detailed, which came across as much more powerful.

I haven’t read many graphic novels, but when I saw this one at the local Goodwill I decided to give it a shot. Maus is such a heartbreaking yet compelling story of the resilience and flexibility of an entire generation of Holocaust survivors. Spiegelman was very honest in his portrayal of both himself and his family. No group of people or individual character was left unscathed. Jewish people constantly sold each other out in the hopes of avoiding being transported to a camp. Poles would help hide Jews, but only as long as they were being paid. There was a definite sense of the deceit and complete collapse of morals among some citizens during that time. Even during the present day parts, Artie comes across as impatient and a little self-serving, while Vladek treats his second wife poorly, is stingy, and quickly loses his temper. However, Spiegelman sympathetically portrays the characters' actions as understandable and somewhat logical.

This story fluidly moves back and forth in time making the timeline easier to understand. Overall, Spiegelman does an excellent job of recounting the past, which is almost impossible to represent accurately since memories tend to become biased over time. Maus is a very poignant look at the devastation and consequences that come from viewing people as animals and treating them as such. I very much look forward to continuing the story with Maus II.


  1. Today is a very fitting day for you to post this review, no?

    This is the first book I read that convinced me of the power of graphic novels. I read this and Maus II one afternoon and was completely gobsmacked about it.

  2. I read my first graphic novel last year, Two Cents Plain, that also had a Holocaust-related story within it. I thought it was amazing, and I have since picked up Maus, but have not yet read it. I plan to do so soon after reading your favorable review :)

  3. I have heard so much about this graphic novel, but haven't ever read it. It sounds like it does a great job with it's intended message, and I think it's one that I need to see if I can find at the library. This was a great review, and I am glad to hear that you liked the book.

  4. I've never really been into graphic novels, per se, but I've heard a lot about this one. Honestly, the graphics are a little disturbing for me. Glad you liked it, though! Perhaps I'll attempt it in the future.


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