I would never have picked up this book in a bookshop but, having read it, it has joined that list of books that I am so glad I read. The length would have put me off. Then, the cover would not have appealed, neither would the subject matter nor the title but, and here is the thing, this novel by Michael Chabon is fantastic.
This is the story of two cousins who meet in USA when one turns up having fled from the Nazis in 30s Europe. America is a sanctuary and Sam Clay and his mother welcome Joe Kavalier into their home. Joe’s artistic skills and Sam’s passion for comics and comic book heroes soon combine to make them a formidable partnership that convinces Sam’s employer to enter the comic book business.
Their character ‘The Escapist’ is born. The connections to the back story of Joe in Czechoslovakia as his family face the growing persecution of Jewish people are well handled and as the ‘Escapist’ grows as a character, so too do Joe’s efforts to free his brother, mother and father from Nazi tyranny. His early life as a keen escape artist in Prague gave Joe many skills that he is powerless to deploy from the States when bureaucracy at the German Embassy proves too much.
I don’t know why I am put off by long books because when I enter them, especially the good ones such as novels by John Irving, the rewards are great. Sam Clay was the character I warmed to the most. His confidence in his ideas, and in the artistic skills of his cousin, are off set by the sad and growing realisation that his sexuality will make him an outsider.
The novel takes over 600 pages to relate a history that stretches up to and beyond the second world war. The fall out of the events that overtook Europe in the 30s and 40s have an effect well into the 50s. With the fortunes of comic books ebbing, the cousins seek other outlets for their creativity.
This book needs to be read rather than explained so I will end with the comment that my heart went out to Sam at the end of this novel. I did not want it to end.