This Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Michael Chabon was a happy surprize for me. I picked it up because it was something different and I was concerned that it wouldn’t hold my attention very long but I was fully engrossed from beginning to end. This is an excellent read, particularly for those who want to improve their command of the English language and extend their vocabularies. Michael Chabon is an artist with words. His sketching of the characters is intricate and sophisticated and the tone of the novel is at once both tragic and comedic. Chabon uses his ability with words to entice the reader into the story like tempting a playful kitty with a furry nip-filled mouse on a string. Before you know it you are completely involved and mesmorized by each twist and turn of the story. Hours will pass you by and you’ll still be hungrily pouncing on each beautifully constructed line.
The story is about two young Jewish men, Joe Kavalier, from Prague and Sammy Klayman from New York who are related as cousins. The story opens with Joe growing up in Czechoslovakia and training as an escape artist and illusionist. We are introduced to the young Joe’ his brother Thomas and their somewhat priviliged life as the sons of two wealthy Doctors. The shadow of the Nazi regime slowly creeps across his homeland and Joe’s parents spend all their money in efforts to have him emigrate to the USA to live with his aunt in New York. It is 1939 when Joe Kavalier, a young artist, finally arives at his cousin’s apartment having just managed his greatest escape to date by smuggling himself out of his Nazi-occupied homeland with the help of his old “Magic teacher” Kornblum.
Joe meets Sammy, his cousin, an industrious dreamer who soon realises that the two of them are a potential collaborative goldmine if they can focus their combined talents (Sam’s for fantastical but exciting storytelling and Joe’s accomplished drawing and inking skills) on the blooming comic book industry. Joe is driven by a desire to make big money, and fast, so that he can fulfil his deepest wish, to rescue his family from an increasingly desperate situation in Europe and bring them to freedom in the USA. Joe and Sammy forge an unforgettable path into the industry with their champion and non-flying, superhero, the Escapist.
Sammy is a self-deprecating, flawed, but loyal and lovable sidekick who adores his cousin, the handsome hero of the book. He manages the baffling feat of leading while taking a back seat. Chabon describes him as wanting to “inhabit the body of his cousin”, because he wants “to be more than the result of two hundred regimens and scenarios and self-improvement campaigns that always ran afoul of his perennial inability to locate an actual self to be improved”. Just one example of Chabon’s tragicomedy that runs through the book.
Chabon’s descriptive talent is astonishing and he brings the whole book to life with an infusion of colour, just like the inking of a comic strip, through simple but stunning vignettes.
“There was on the slender bole of the youthful maple tree…an enormous moth. It rested, papillating its wings with a certain languor like a lady fanning herself.”
” Steam purled from the orifices of the street.”
“There are thick flocks of bombers, spiky flotillas of batleships, gardens of blooming shell bursts.”
“He walked along Eigth street, over to Christopher, then to the river, threading his way like a pickpocket through the crowds just of the feryboats from New Jersey: taut-jawed men in stiff hats and suits and obsidian shoes, newspapers pinned under their arms; brusque, brick-lipped, hard-heeled women in floral dresses. They stampeded down the ramps and onto Christopher and then scattered like raindrops blown across a window.”
Isn’t that fantastic? I will not continue with spoilers on the hows, whys and wherefores, of the plot progression. Read the book! The storytelling is magical with bursts of fantasy and escapism. The characterization is superb and there is a little something for everyone with love stories, magic, war tales, terrorism, espionage, fairytales, tragedy, psychology and philosophy all perfectly weaved together in a triumph of a great American novel.
Later Chabon went on, in collaboration with Dark Horse Comics
(who put out the Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Hellboy comics), to cr
eate an actual comic book series of The Escapist. It was called The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist and it won a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for creative achievement in American comic books in the “Best Anthology” category in 2005. The picture is of the cover of the Escapist #1 published by Dark Horse on February 25, 2004.