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4.8 out of 5 stars
The Complete MAUS
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 2 November 2009
This haunting graphic novel depicts the Holocaust through the eyes of Art's father, a Polish Jew called Vladek who suffered greatly but survived the concentration camps. Starting with the meeting of his father and his mother, The Complete Maus carries their story through to the end of the horrors, juxtaposed with Art's present-day life and struggle to appease his elderly father while recording his history before it's too late. By using animals to represent groups of people (Nazis are cats, Jews are mice, French are frogs, and so on), the author strengthens his allegory and makes this book into an unforgettable and horrifying piece of art.

I hesistated for a few weeks before writing this review. Another review is surely excessive because I've seen tons out there. Still, my thoughts wanted a place, and when it comes down to it, this graphic novel hasn't left me alone yet.

Perhaps what's most striking about this particular tale is that Vladek is an ordinary old man. In some way, Holocaust survivors are expected to be supernaturally brave, intelligent, and in essence heroes. They are that, but they are also normal people thrust into the worst situation imaginable and forced to cope or die or both. Vladek has undoubtedly been shaped by his experience but not in the best ways. He hoards food, he hoards money, because his world is still uncertain and he knows what deprivation is like. This irritates everyone around him but the saddest part is that he is so normal. It brings home to us the fact that ordinary people were suffered and died for no reason. Vladek is startlingly like my grandpa and that makes the real story even more horrifying than it would have been without the frame. It reminds us how lucky we are, as does Art's constant struggle with his guilt over his role in his father's life.

As I'm sure many others have, I have heard a lot of Holocaust stories over my lifetime. I was taught about it in school, given books about it, and chose on my own to read about it on numerous occasions. That doesn't lessen the impact of this one. Since this one is set in Poland, and there is a lot of running around and hiding before Vladek and Anya are caught, I felt it was a little different than others. The fact that it's a graphic novel also made a difference. Even in cartoon form, seeing the wasted bodies of the mice is upsetting. The few real pictures added just make a huge impact, reminding us that these were real people.

Overall, this graphic novel is carefully crafted and deeply moving. I don't want to say something so horrifying is "good", because that is impossible. Rather, its power and stunning capacity to portray humanity and inhumanity through selected text and drawings makes it worth noting, remembering, and reading.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 19 December 1998
MAUS is an extraordinary book. The author-unsparing of himself and his father, the survivor-presents an honest, unsentimental, extremely human account of one man's experience (the author's father) of the holocaust and the effects the experience had on his post-war life, his family, and especially on his son, the author and artist who created this masterpiece. The comic book format allows the author to express the unexpressible.
The book contains humor, tragedy and paradox. It allows the reader to enter into the experience in an intimate way. By going back and forth from the present to the past, we experience the sharp contrast between the incredible freedom and comfort of our modern western lives and the horrific mind-numbing nightmare that became the daily experience of millions of people so very few years ago.(We also see how that "nightmare" continues to pervade the present life of the man who has lived through it.)
MAUS is one man's story. It is clear that Mr. Spiegelman has no personal animosity towards any people or nation. His most difficult relationship, and this adds such a fascinating and human twist to the tale, was with his father!
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 1998
I worked at the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies as a student at Yale University. I reviewed many testimonies, and was at one point assigned a number of videos about survivors from Sosnowiec, Poland, where much of _Maus_ takes place. I can only say of the books that they reproduce both typical experiences of those survivors and the tone of their stories in an extremely effective, real and moving way. The books are not at all implausible, as has been suggested in other reviews at this site; surviving the Holocaust required that level of ingenuity and courage, as I witnessed through many similar personal stories. If you are not able to learn about the Holocaust from someone who experienced it, these books are a very artistic and brave attempt to convey that knowledge. Spiegelman has given an authentic voice to the many, many survivors whose stories would otherwise languish on the shelves of archives around the world.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2007
There is a huge amount of holocaust literature available, lots of it well written and moving but this graphic novel packs quite a punch and is all the more engrossing because of its cartoon form.

I found it just as affecting as Primo Levi's books which is high praise indeed. I have lent this to family who, like me, found it gut wrenching but rewarding. And none of us read comics or graphic novels ever. If you don't either, make this the exception. Should be essential reading.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on 22 May 1998
If one sign of a great work is that it breeds heated discussions -- Maus and Maus II certainly qualify. (By the way, everyone, the Nazi's were CATS!). Most of the objections I read from other reviewers seem to stem from the fact that this powerful, moving, and disturbing book does not promulgate their particular political agenda. Those of you who take offense should remember that this book is not a political history, but a biography. Even then, we should also note that the primary focus of this work is not the actual atrocities of the Holocaust, but in what came next. Art Spiegleman created this because he was trying to understand how his mother could survive all the horrors of a concentration camp, only to kill herself years later. In the wake of her suicide, Maus reveals itself to be a tale of how Spiegleman survived his mother's act of self-destruction, and in so doing, reveals much about all humans everywhere. (Also, let's never forget one thing, folks: A Comic Book won a Pulitzer Prize!)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2012
Maus (and Maus II) have gone straight into my list of favourite books ever. Needless to say any work of literature that deals with the Jewish Holocaust is bound to be moving. So what's so great about this one?

A few aspects stand out (probably the least of which is the unflinching deciption of what happened in the Polish ghettos and the Nazi Death Camps). For one, it is unrestrainedly autobiographical, including the author's own fractious relationship with his father, who is also the story's central character, as well as showing us the difficult process of writing and the doubts surrounding the author's right to observe, codify and fictionalize such a story. Then there is the imperfect hero, Vladek Spiegelman, who is both an everyman hero and a modern day pain in the ass. Art Spiegelman (as the author) does not attempt to rationalise the rights and wrongs of his father's difficult behaviour or anything else in fact. He simply presents the story without creating obstructive moral or psychological judgements and lets us make up our own minds. Another beguiling feature of this story is the medium. A graphic novel using cats, mice and dogs to represent different races involved in the Jewish story could become facile in less skilful hands. Not so with Maus. The graphic form gives the narrative superb pace and also allows us to SEE what we might easily block out or gloss over in a conventional written narrative. And finally, the jumble of narrative timeline between the horrors of Nazism and the often meaningless activity of modern life (buying groceries, fixing a broken drainpipe) give us a real awareness of how difficult it must be to carry on as a survivor.

A final word of advice, I nearly bought Maus on its own, without Maus II, but they should be read together as they complete the narrative. So if you are going to read Vladek's story, this edition is the one you want.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 2003
On first inspection, a comic strip depicting the suffering of the Holocaust through the use of 'cat' and 'mice' figures seems insupportable, almost laughable. However, the moment you begin to read the Maus collection, you are drawn into an incredible world, the world of the Holocaust, and become part of it. The mice become as real to the reader as their own family, the Nazi cats as terrifying as any living nightmare. Through the struggle to survivial of the Speigelman family, both during and after the Holocaust, the reader gats a real sense of what it is to have experienced such events, whether literally, or as a second-generation survivor. An amazing both, which is both hugely entertaining and surprising.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The only graphic novel (to date) that has ever moved me to tears. So simple, so unapologetic, so painfully honest, it lets the events speak for themselves, and in doing so respects the memory of those who went through it. No hyperbole or exaggeration, just one man's story, what he saw, what he heard, raw fear, raw suffering and ultimately raw love. So heartbreaking and the only Holocaust book to really impart on me the full impact of the horror the Jews went through. Feel ashamed of my own easy life after reading this...and as well I should
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This book tells the story of Spiegelman's father, Vladek, a Polish Jew and an Auschwitz survivor. Vladek is a survivor of unimaginable displacement, bereavement and loss. But only part of him survives. For he is a man broken and shriveled by the ordeals he endured and overcame, to the detriment of those who came after him.

I loved this book because it tells a story with great power, but avoids falling into the traps of sermonising, drawing `lessons' or `morals' from the events it relates therein, or sentimentalising its protagonist, the author's father. An example of this is his father's racist outburst against a black hitchhiker. When rebuked, Vladek refuses to see any link between his racism and Nazi racism. This requires both emotional and moral courage on the part of the author to relate so unsparingly, with no attempt at explanation or mitigation. It just is. At the heart of so much human evil is a mysterious lacuna, which defies any attempt at neat rational explanation. This is not to say that such explanations should not be attempted. It is to say that the author wisely refrains from diluting the emotional power of the book by being diverted by such discussions. They belong elsewhere.

Moreover, the author refuses to offer an uplifting coda by way of a happy ending which somehow redeems all that has gone before. Not only does the past continue to `bleed history', but so does the present. The author's relationship with his father remains problematic at the conclusion (at the end of the story, Spiegelman's father mistakes him for his sibling lost during the holocaust), as does the burden of the past, which voices no explanation for the horrors that transpired.

The artwork is deceptively spare and austere, yet it creates a vivid impression of the lost world of the author's parents before the war, as well as the horrific calamities which befell them during the course of it. The extended metaphor of cats and mice perfectly captures the execution of the so-called `Final Solution', especially the sadistic torment the Nazis subjected their victims before their annihilation. The metaphor, although criticised, is in fact perfectly apposite for the historical events it depicts.

It deserves to be considered a foremost example of holocaust literature, and bears comparison with Primo Levi. While not a not a first-person account of a survivor's testimony, I think Maus bears comparison with Levi for its absolute integrity and restraint in relating events, which nearly 70 years later, still stagger the imagination.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2010
Personal tales of survival from the Nazi concentration camps have appeared everywhere in literature. Historians have been able to piece together the reality of the war, of Auschwitz, Dachau and the other camps, of the horrors that went on, of the suffering that people went through. And still, for me, they continue to be incredible.

These stories interest me because I can't bring myself to understand why things happened the way they did, and how it is possible for human beings to convince themselves that they need to exterminate other human beings as if they were vermin. This is the first striking thing about this book - the powerful visual metaphor the author uses with humans being depicted as animals. The Jews are represented by mice, which works really well to show just exactly how the others viewed them - as lesser, disgusting beings that should be eradicated. As a natural consequence, Germans are portrayed as cats (though I have to say I wasn't too happy about that, since I'm a cat person). Non-Jewish Poles are portrayed as pigs, Americans as dogs. It adds a whole different dimension to the story, since we see them as they saw each other - different categories of species.

And yet, this is more than a memoir in the form of graphic novel. It also explores the dynamic between father and child, the ambivalence of the author towards his parents, whom he both loves and resents, and the way he comes to terms with the history of his family, including feeling guilty for having had everything too easily compared to them, and feeling that his own life story could never come close to that of his parents. It also explains how difficult it was for Mr. Spiegelman to grasp the true meaning of what their parents went through, and his efforts to tell the story we are reading.

The artwork is simple but poignant, and the animal metaphor quickly disappears into the story, which makes it even more piercing when we see real photographs of the people depicted throughout the book. The photograph of the author's father wearing the prisoner's garments is especially touching.

For me, this was different from other Holocaust memoirs I've read, not only because it's in graphic novel form, but also because it's told in the point of view of someone who isn't a survivor, but a descendant, and so can explore the effect that the Holocaust had on those few who survived it. Surviving it wasn't enough. These events affected profoundly whole countries and whole generations of people.

A must-read classic, and deservedly so.
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