Maus is a graphic novel. Don't go away thinking it's just a comic. I mean, it is a comic -and I don't want to have the debate about comics being literature, of course they are-, but a really good one. If you like that sort of things, it is the only one to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. So, yes, it stands out, both among comics and other kinds of literature.
So what is it about? It's the biography of Vladek Spiegelman, the author's father, from the author's point of view. What is so special about Vladek is that he was a Polish Jew who survived Nazi concentration camps. As I've stated before, I like to learn about WWII and the Holocaust, so I've always known I'd read Maus at some point. This is The Complete Maus, which consists of the two volumes previously published, My Father Bleeds History and And Here My Troubles Began.
While I don't know of any other comic dealing with the Holocaust (please, tell me if you do), Art Spiegelman doesn't stop there and portrays Jews as mice and Nazi as cats. This has a curious effect of distancing the reader from the emotional content of the story for a while, until the horrors depicted are so incredible that no barrier could keep anyone from feeling. But it is in no way emotionally manipulative, as other Holocaust stories are. Partly because Art states things as they were without giving his opinion on them, and partly because this is not fiction, in my opinion.
Honestly, I can't properly think about this book, but I do feel strongly about it. I've read many Holocaust stories. The Complete Maus is among the best of them, if not the very best. The comic form makes it more poignant. Art is able to show something terrible in only a couple of frames. I'm thinking about the episode where the Jews are summoned to the stadium and Vladek's father crosses the fence (I'm trying to avoid spoilers) or about the details of the gas chambers. Chills went up my spine and I felt sad or horrified, and had to pause for a while.
And I liked Art's honesty about it all, writing about his guilt of having led an easier life than his parents. Vladek is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, as it is perfectly illustrated when they meet the 'shvartser', but he is endearing and his endless resources are admirable. If there's any imperfection, is because I was so invested in the characters I'd loved to know more about them. For instance, I would have liked knowing what happened to Anja while she was alone in Auschwitz-Birkenau and later, in Dachau. Why she committed suicide. How Vladek met Mala again, what made him marry her. I became really engrossed in the story while reading this book. It was even better than I had anticipated.
Verdict: 5/5 - loved it. Buy this, read it and keep it for ever.