Maus: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

0394747232.01.LZZZZZZZWhen is the last time you read a book and was able to read pages and pages before you realized you were almost finished? When is the last time you read a book, and actually met the author along with his father in the creation of the story? When is the last time you were able to SEE the author's intended pictures? Welcome to the world of graphic novels!

In the graphic novel, Maus, Spiegelman introduces himself along with his father, Vladek, in the actual creation of the book while he puts into picture the re-telling of his father's story as a young Jew in the early part of the Nazi regime. The
Jews are portrayed as mice, and the Nazis as cats, along with side supporting characters such as Poles as pigs. maus1spread2.gifWhile Vladek unfolds his story, you get not only a sense of the pain and losses he dealt with in his past, but also the current trouble he has with his son. Art is a young American author trying to get every last word and picture down on paper, not wanting to miss a detail. Vladek is a Holocaust survivor trying to relive the horror of re-telling his story, remembering his lost loved ones. Throughout this narrative of the father and son relationship, one is able to sense the importance of hearing the stories of one's own past and heritage, a valuable attribute that adds to the understanding of one's own life and history.

Vladek grew up in Poland before it came under the Nazis' attack. We see how he meets Anja, his first wife and Art's mother, and how he begins his life as a successful businessman. He fathers his first son, Richieu, and has a sturdy hold on a pleasant and normal life. When the regime hits, stories across the country's borders slowly seek into Vladek's line of hearing, and eventually turn his normal life into an actuality of hell. During the re-telling of the story, Vladek remembers seeing the swastika symbol, the Nazis, and the trains for the first time.

"Everyone came very nice dressed. They tried so that they would look young and able to work, in order to get a god stamp on their passport. When we were every inside, gestapo with machine guns surrounded the stadium. "Line up by family at the tables to register! Quickly!" Then was a selection, with people sent either to the left,
either to the right. Old people, families with lots of kids, and people without work cards were all going to the left.
We understood this must be very bad" (90). Comic images courtesy of Random House maus1spread3.gif
As Art learns the stepping stones of his father's story, the lost brother he never knew, and the mother he never connected with, he realizes the true importance of bonding.

Maus is an astounding book to read for those interested in the Holocaust and are unsure where to get started, for those looking for more clarification, and for those who are advanced readers wanting to try out a graphic novel for the first time. Many themes and possible questions come up for discussion after reading this novel that everyone must experience at some point during their lives to get Spiegelman's full intentional effect of his book.
"They marched us through the city of Bielsko. We passed by the factory what once I owned. We passed the market where always we bought to eat, and passed even the street where we used to live, and we came 'til the prison, and there they put us" (155).

"Maus is a gripping Holocaust work for mature readers of all ages. It is a story about a family that could be yours, or your next-door neighbor. It fosters passionate discussion and intense debate. A Pulitzer prize-winning work, Maus should be read by all students of this dark time in our history" - Doug Wadley, student at Bradley- Bourbonnais Community High School

Comic images courtesy of Random House


About the Author: Art Spiegelman

Born in Stockholm, Sweden to Vladek and Anja Spiegelman. Spiegelman grew up in Queens, New York City, New York and graduated from the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. Spiegelman attended Binghamton University. He did not graduate but received an honorary doctorate from there 30 years later. At Harpur, Spiegelman audited classes by the innovative filmmaker Ken Jacobs and became friendly with him. Spiegelman has acknowledged being strongly inspired by Jacobs' work and thought.
Self Portrait
Self Portrait

He had one brother named Richieu who died before Art was born. Richieu was caught in the conflicts of World War II and was sent to live with an aunt, Tosha, since the Zawiercie ghetto where she resided seemed safer than the Sosnowiec-Środula ghetto. When the Nazis started to deport people from the Zawiercie ghetto, Tosha poisoned herself, Richieu, her own daughter (Bibi) and her niece (Lonia). (Maus, Volume 1) Art mentions in Maus that he felt like he had a sibling rivalry with a photograph, since his parents were still upset over the death of their first-born son. The second volume of Maus was dedicated to Richieu and to Art's daughter, Nadja. In the late winter of 1968, he suffered a brief but intense nervous breakdown, an event occasionally referred to in his work. Spiegelman was a major figure in the underground comics movement of the 1960s and 1970s, contributing to publications such as Real Pulp, Young Lust and Bizarre Sex. He co-founded two significant comics anthology publications, Arcade (with Bill Griffith) in San Francisco during the early 1970s and Raw with his wife, artist Francoise Mouly, in 1980.

Additional Resources:

Listen and Learn: NPR Special on Art Spiegelman, with a Vladek sound clip


Meet: Art Spiegelman Interview with Gary Groth for The Comics Journal

View: Art Spiegelman on the televison show Charlie Rose

-Interview for the 10th anniversary of the graphic novel Maus

Buy: Various works available in print from Art Spiegelman

Other Graphic Novels to Check Out:

American Born Chinese by Gene Yuen Lang - a YA top pick for graphic novels. When Jim Yang and his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his school.

-Check out a YA Lit Review on this text here.

The Kents by John Ostrander - The saga of a family living in Kansas during the Civil War.

Top 10 Graphic Novels for Teens of 2007 - A great list for getting started!

Palestine by Joe Sacco - for the advanced reader. A story about the author's two month stay with Palenstinians in the early 90s.

Teacher Resources:

Comics in the Classroom:

NPR-Comic books in the classroom

- Interviews with teachers, students, parents, and administrators on working comic books into the educational process.

National Association of Comics Art Educators

- The National Association of Comic Art Educators website. Which is an "organization committed promoting the acceptance of comics as an art form within educational institutions and to facilitate the teaching and use of comics in educational settings. "

Maus in the Classroom:

Sample Maus study questions from NACAE

Portions of Maus in an electronic format

Unit on introducing graphic novels using Maus

by Ashley Stein and Kate Gorlewski

Ashley Stein's other reviews: Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli and Deliver Us From Evil by Daniel Reed