An artist, an escape artist, a comic book artist – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Golden Age is the Middle Marker

This is cool. This is sheer nerdiness. This is about comic books! Are you expecting the cynical me to diss this art form? Of course not, you! I was reared into comic books myself, not during the heydays of Superman, but that of the X-Men, their latter, waning years. I at least had a taste of the comic book hype before something else snatched my devotion.

Our protagonists are Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, creators of comic book heroes and artists in their own rights. Really, this is more about Joe Kavalier, an interesting case study, if you ask me. He is Jew who meanders his way from Prague to New York City. Really, why would anyone leave Prague, one of my ultimate dream destinations along with Bhutan, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Iceland, New Zealand, and, okay, Venice? One is sort of forced to, especially if your parents wasted the family fortune just so you could escape the hands of the Nazis.

Joe swears to bring his family with him to New York, particularly his brother Thomas, the person to whom he promised this trans-Atlantic familial migration. But this is set during the overture of World War II. Things are not easy. Visas are not distributed like dubious flyers advertising good income at the comfort of your home. But things could be easier if you are a former art school student, who could actually draw, and who has a partner who will guide you in the adventurous world of comic books.

The narrative is fast-paced, except for the parts that look back to the past. This is an apt description, because really, time slips away like your paycheck. It significantly dwindles every time you check your account balance at your trusted ATM. It’s an adventure in the sense that there is action, that there is the goal of putting up comic books, that there is virginity trying to squirm its way out of your post-pubertal crotch, and that there is the backdrop of Hitler and his Nazis staging their games.

The plot, so far, is solid. There is enough drama, even romance. Although there is not enough Sam Clay so far, that’s okay. I am just halfway through this. I am prepared to really love this novel. I am just waiting for that crucial moment where I’ll gasp for air, like a fish scooped out of the sea, and feel beautifully biting restlessness. And this almost did it.

Joe lit a cigarette, blew out a long stream of smoke, looked away. He didn’t want to hear it. He knew that he was being unreasonable. But for a year now, unreason – the steadfast and all-consuming persecution of a ridiculous, make-believe war against enemies he could not defeat, by a means that could never succeed – had offered the only possible salvation of his sanity. Let people be reasonable whose families were not held prisoner.

“There is only one sure means in life,” Deasey said, “of ensuring that you are not ground into paste by disappointment, futility, and disillusion. And that is always to ensure, to the utmost of your ability, that you are doing it solely for the money.”

This, I think, is the core conflict of the novel. True, the exciting adventures of Kavalier and Clay’s superheroes are found here and there. Underneath the hero’s mask, enclosed in his jaw-breaking uppercuts, and within the comic book’s text is a sort of anti-Nazi propaganda propagating invisibly among the ten-year old fans. Joe’s rage, his unseen wars, his frustrations for being helpless despite his steady flow of income, is going to devastate him, as the editor Deasey puts.

A warning for him. And for me. So from now on, no more angst in the office. Self-preservation can be so tough for someone who was ideals loftier than that of the average office worker who worries so much about the clothes he will wear the following day, who slurps office gossip for breakfast, and who unbelievable manages to sit comfortably year after year, wasting the better part of him, if any, into corporate lassitude.

Oh well, I think I really, really love it.

Date Started: March 3, 2012. 9:30 PM. Book #12 of 2012.

4 thoughts on “An artist, an escape artist, a comic book artist – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

  1. This is quite possibly my favorite book in the world. I hope we can discuss this together in one of the TFG meetups! :D

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    • Of course! I love discussing bookish stuff with you. And this being quite possibly your favorite book in the world, you must have a lot to say. I think a lot of guys want to read this but are somehow intimidated because of the thickness (it’s quite heavy, but it’s manageable).

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