Looking at a computer screen, believe it or not, is somewhat difficult for me as it brings on dizzy spells, so I will most likely be very brief in this review which will be difficult because this book is a beast!
Author: Michael Chabon
Publication Date: 2000
Publisher: Random House
Where I Got It: Used at The Last Word in Charlotte, NC
Dates I Read It: January 26, 2013 - February 7, 2013
Number of Stars: 4/5
Read For: 2013 TBR Pile Challenge (February Selection)
This is the story of Josef Kavalier who is living with his family in Prague in 1939. Oh, did I mention that he is very Jewish. Yeah, that means he needs to hit the road and get outta Dodge, and quick. Josef has been taking lessons with a master of the art of escape- Mr. Kornblum who agrees to assist him in escaping the country. Through a series of near-miss escapes from different countries Josef finally makes it to New York City where he finds his cousin Samuel Clayman. The two bond quickly and decide to begin making a new form of entertainment known as "comic books". The two have a real talent for this medium and soon their ace hero, The Escapist, is blowing up. The story follows the two young men over the span of almost three decades, through marriages, lost loves, World War II, children, wives, and much more.
This is a book that demands a lot from the reader. It demands an exorbitant amount of focus, time, attention and emotion. It is all at once the story of the burgeoning comic industry, romance, suspense, survivors guilt, LGBT issues, WWII, Holocaust, magic, and the immigrant experience. Let's start with the characters who drive this story. Josef (Joe in America) is at the heart of the novel. I would consider Joe to be the main character, but the character whose story I was the most interested in was Samuel (Sammy). Sam is a lonely boy when we first meet him and I had figured out his "secret" about 100 pages in, I just kept waiting for him to reveal it like a sleight of hand. Rosa was the girl at the center of the boys worlds. She was an artist herself who eventually made comics for women readers. She is the love of Joe's life though in these redolent novels the hero doesn't always end up with the girl and for the majority of the book I was fascinated to see if Joe would ever fulfill his full destiny and end up with Rosa. Chabon includes many expanded (sometimes for pages on end) inner revealings of each of the three main characters which while at times these revelations could be somewhat dauntless they really revealed the inner consciousness of the characters and made them into some of the most authentic characters that I have ever experienced in all of literature. Also astonishing about the characters was that there was not a single one that I resented or found any dislike for which, Reader, is very rare for me. They were too real to hate and through those long interludes of thoughts Chabon makes his readers cherish his characters as if they were beloved friends or family members.
I kept hearing one of my favorite book podcasters, Michael Kindness from Books on the Nightstand rave about this book so I placed it on my TBR list years ago and never thought to really get around to it (it's 640 pages- I was scared!) until Roof Beam Reader hosted the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge and I knew I had to knock this one out in 2013 and added it to the list. I'm so glad that it's not still sitting in the pile and that I have experienced this amazing adventure.
The prose was spectacularly written and it is no wonder to me that this novel won the Pulitzer. The tone of this book ranges from exciting and sweeping to dark and it ends with a twinge of nostalgia that I would have expected from the poetic duo. The plot was engaging which surprised me as I do not care for comic books at all. I was a little hesitant about reading a book surrounding the genre, but this is a readable book even for those of us who are comic book neophytes. The story drifted a little bit for me when one of our heroes enlists in the war. During this part I felt that the character development came to a screeching halt. The character that this selection of the book focused on made decisions and actions which were not believable to me based on the past 300 pages that I had journeyed with this character. Had it not been for this one section of the novel I would have given the book as a whole a full 5 out of 5 stars.
Like I said at the start of this review, this book does demand a great deal from its reader, so this is not a book that I would recommend to just anyone. However, everyone that I know that has read it has loved it. If you have the time and the energy to maneuver this book, I do not believe you will finish it feeling disappointed.