The biographical part is that Vladek is telling his personal memories to his son, Art, who is a professional cartoonist. So naturally, the story was told as a cartoon. The Polish Jews are depicted as mice (the word “Maus” is German for “mouse”). The Nazis are cats (what else?), and the non-Jewish Poles are pigs. The story switches back and forth between Vladek’s harrowing story and the complicated bickering between father and son going on in the present time as the story is being told.
The first volume takes place in Poland during the persecution, hiding, and fleeing part of Vladek's story. So while you’re at the library, also check out Maus Part II, And Now My Troubles Began, which describes Vladek’s experiences as he is arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. The Nazi cats don’t get any nicer at Auschwitz than they were in Poland.
Interesting, unique concept in historical biography—mice, cats, pigs, cartoons. But I couldn’t put either volume down until I had finished them. Honestly, it’s one of the most insightful books I’ve read about the holocaust and how it shaped the lives of the survivors.