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Maus, Art Spiegelman (1991)

The Holocaust, drawn, quartered, trapped

by
Jennifer Gilmore
September 17, 2013

Part biography, part memoir, part comic, part anthropological history, Maus, which Art Spiegelman famously struggled to publish in book form, recast the Holocaust narrative as it had existed up to that point. In it, Spiegelman essentially tells three stories: the detailed and horrifying history of his father’s survival, the fraught relationship between father and son in contemporary Queens, and the meta story of Artie’s often thwarted efforts to make the book now in your hand. The combined effect reveals how the past informs present, how the father, Vladek, is haunted by his memories, and how it all creates long-term, complex effects for his son. But what makes Maus truly transcendent is that those complex dialectics are on display visually. The characters are drawn as a collective, each group delineated by its animal nature—Nazis are cats; the Jews, of course, are mice—but Maus is driven by its individual characters. As Vladek’s story unspools, threaded with his voice, Artie’s anthropomorphizing fades and the human, brutal, powerful humans they both are emerge in full view.

Jennifer Gilmore’s latest novel, The Mothers, was published by Scribner in April 2013. She is also the author of Golden Country, a 2006 New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Jewish Book Award, and Something Red, a New York Times Notable Book.

Jennifer Gilmore’s latest novel, The Mothers, was published by Scribner in April 2013. She is also the author of Golden Country, a 2006 New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Jewish Book Award, and Something Red, a New York Times Notable Book.

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