I don’t really read a lot. I mean, I like to read, but it’s something I can only do when I’ve got peace of mind. I remember reading IT and The Stand on a holiday in France – tackling these mastodonts back to back was pretty much the best reading experience I’ve ever had.
Unfortunately, The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a Pulitzer-crowned epic by Michael Chabon, couldn’t get that treatment. I started reading it at the Warsaw Film Fest last October and I couldn’t find time to finish it until last weekend.
But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Kavalier and Clay tells the story of Joe and Sammy, two Jewish cousins who rise into the comics industry of the thirties and fourties. While they develop the extremely popular and almighty Hitler-punching superhero The Escapist, they are powerless against the actual atrocities done to their families in Europe. It’s a wonderful parallel that barely scratches the surface of this masterpiece.
Told as a perfectly interwoven sidedish are stories about homosexuality, about two very different creative processes, about Harry Houdini and Salvador Dahli – and of course about the rise and fall of the costumed hero thanks to people like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Bob Kane.
Especially this last aspect adds a strong emphasis on historical research to an otherwise very internalized novel. Some of the more technical inserts and footnotes throughout the story literally handle this book as an encyclopedia – which blends really well with the otherwise very in-depth, beautifully written (and endless) descriptions of the two fascinating characters at the centre of this story.
Now when you start googling around and reading some other reviews, you will notice one thing: Not everyone is as excited about this book as I am. The thing is: Not much happens. You think: Superheroes! Adolf Hitler! Nope, sorry – Objectively speaking, as far as any tangible outer plot, you know, where stuff actually happens, goes, these 700 pages are actually quite bare-bones.
But that’s not the point. What drives this wonderful novel is an indepth look at two people and their friendship throughout the most important part of their life. About loss, about taking bullets for each other – about life, really.
In this way, it resembles Ang Lee’s adaptation of the Brokeback Mountain short: The only important thing that happens there (to Jack) wasn’t even shown on screen. Because it’s not about what happens, but about the emotional repercussions for everyone around him.
This book deeply moved me. It’s like a delightfully prepared meal, one where you want to savour every little flavour. It’s a book you carry around for months and maybe read a single page. It’s a book you never want to finish.
So what I’m saying is: Buy this book. Travel with it. Read it little bits at a time. Rip the spine. Bend the cover. Put it down wrong side up. By the time you’re done, this book should be completely destroyed.
(P.S. I didn’t do all of this because I’m not a barbarian but you totall should)