My First Michael Chabon

It took much persuasion before I picked up my first Michael Chabon. There was no clear reason for the reluctance; the volume of pages, the hotchpotch of a cover, the yellow-brown thin paper of the paperback version, and the Pulitzer Prize Winner sticker – all contributed to it, I guess.

The book begins slowly in the city of Prague during WW II. It switched between then and the prewar days for the first few chapters and told us about this lanky Jew teenager whose family had given everything they had to help him escape to the country of great opportunities – America. Let’s call this lanky Jew teenager Joe. 

The first few chapters talked about everything and everyone dear to Joe and then Joe leaved it/them all and escapes. Once escaped, we find him sharing a bedroom with an American-Jew teenager. Let’s call this one Sammie.

Now, the book leaves Sammie and Joe alone and gets into detailed description of evolution, painful struggle, and rise of comics in the America of 1930-40s. Of course, this is for a reason. Soon, Joe and Sammie discover that with the talent that each has, they can make comics. And hence begins The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Our Joe misses his family and all he wants is to be with them. Sammy, on the other hand, has been trying to get away from it all ever since he was a kid. But the two strike a great partnership and a wonderful friendship despite the basic difference in their characters. Through the course of events, Joe finds himself living Sammie’s dream and vice-versa. There are also some girls, some boys, a couple of mothers and a few fathers, some Germans, a lot of Hitler, some Will Eisner, some Superman, some Batman and Robin, and a lot of WWII thrown in. All of these help us understand Joe and Sammie better and take us through their adventures.

Why am I writing about this book? Because it is one of those pieces that bring its characters to life and during the period one is reading about them, they actually walk around with the reader in flesh and blood. I am also writing about this book because after reading it, I think I know Joe and Sammy just the way I know my friend from the college days. 

I am partial to the books that make me feel – happy, sad, angry, anything. This book is not one of those. This book makes me think about the people in it, their actions, their reactions, their motivations and it does the job so well that you are never shocked by the behavior, as eccentric as it maybe, of any character.

I think this what they call brilliant writing. For me the book worked because although I have been fortunate enough to read a lot of entertaining and/or well written books of late but I have not discovered an author I would like to follow after Neil Gaiman. And Gaiman happened in 2005. About time too, I think.

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