Yes, Maus is a graphic novel that comes in two parts, but it's definitely a fine piece of literature (defined simply as the art of written work) that uses animals to portray people involved in the Holocaust. The use of these animals simply allows for uniformed description as to who was who and what kind of impact was made during the most heinous, biased, and racist events in modern day history. Maus is a real life biography written by Art Spiegelman based on stories that his father, Vladek, told him about his times during the Holocaust and all of the brutal notions he had to go through. The most memorable aspect is the animal portrayals. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, the Poles are pigs, the French are frogs, and the Americans are dogs. This allows for simple, uniformed, organization and a comic book style outlook.
The graphic novel is completely raw and that's what stands best about it. Not only is there stories from the time, but also from present day. Much of the story is set in present day during visits that Art had with his father. Art lost his mother, Anja, to a suicide, and his father is now remarried to a woman named Mala. He sees her as being someone who only takes him for his money and is messing with his will. Mala sees Vladek as cheap and stingy. Vladek also suffers from heart problems, diabetes, among other conditions that come with age. When he's not causing problems, he is able to tell the story about his time in Poland during the Holocaust.
Vladek Spiegelman starts with his first lover, but how he liked Anja and how the two of them would eventually marry. They have a son, Richieu, who they give to a caretaker during the Holocaust and (SKIP THIS SECTION IF YOU DON'T WANT A SPOILER) is killed when she poisons herself and the children she's caring for. (OKAY, FEEL FREE TO RESUME) Vladek goes over hiding out from being captured, how he would disguise himself as a Pole, like others would, the cruelty of the Nazis, and how he was brought to Auschwitz. The first part goes up to this time, as the second part concentrates on his days in the camp and beyond.
In the camps, the males and females are split, and the ones who demonstrate use are able to stick around longer. Being a tinman (who works in a form of carpentry as he did) and a shoemaker, Vladek shows use. It all winds down to the end of the war, moving to Sweden, and coming to America (which is only touched upon, because not much of a story is needed for this part).
The humor in the graphic novel occurs during the present day, during the interactions between Art Spiegelman and his father, and his father in general. While many of the Jewish characterizations are simply stereotypes, Vladek Spiegelman is cheap, racist, and is a perfectionist who is highly stubborn. Memorable scenes include a jacket scene and picking up a hitchhiker who is a black dog from the side of the road.
Maus breaks the fourth wall on plenty of occasions, one of which is a chapter that includes Art Spiegelman talking about his work. As you can quickly point out, only the head is really that of an animal. From the neck down, it looks very human. The characters are clearly anthropomorphic, as more than anything, the animals hold human traits. When Art Spiegelman's talking about his own work, he, the media, and his therapist all have straps on the back of their heads, showing that they're simply wearing masks. The discussion on the publication of Maus and the attention it gets from the media shows how this fourth wall is being broken. It's similar to how Spaceballs holds sales on merchandise and they play the film as the actual film is filming.
Maus is a graphic novel in a comic book style format, but the quality behind it is excellent. While the story has a much needed sense of humor, it becomes real and serious when it needs to be. It's simply another Holocaust story that can grab the attention of someone who likes to read graphic novels. It definitely grabbed my attention, too, and I am not one for graphic novels. I've declared that Manga is simply Japanese comic books and Maus could be characterized the same, but it's more than that. The story is so strong that it comes off as being a very intriguing story about such a cruel period of time.
If you like graphic novels, read this. If you like historical pieces, read this. If you like to read in general... read this.