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February 13, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | February 13, 2009 |

Brilliant. Just a fucking brilliant book. It’s the only Chabon I’ve read, but I’m immediately a fan. What blows my mind is, this book almost follows the same general narrative structure you’d find in those odious three hour melodramas that pass for Oscar Winners, something like a Benjamin Button or English Patient. At the barest bones of course. It’s about two cousins who change the face of comics during the era of World War II, and about the woman they both love.

But that’s where Chabon leaves all the other saps behind and breathtakingly layers his story. There’s so much going on here, any single narrative thread could have made for an outstanding novel of its’ own accord. Josef Kavalier was chosen by his family to be the one to escape to America from Prague, and he ends up enlisting the help of his magic teacher and an ancient Golem. Sammy Klayman, shortened to Clay, lives with his mother after he’s been essentially abandoned by his carnie father, who’s a traveling circusman. It covers homosexuality, radio, Houdini, magic, the sweat-shop era of early comic investing, art, and so much more.

The boys ended up getting in on the ground of the emerging art form of comic books, blending their skills to create The Escapist — a Nazi battling Superman. Kavalier and Clay acts as a partial history of comics. But this is blended effortlessly with the World War II thread, as Joe Kavalier uses his pen to battle the Germans. As many stories as there have been that involved WWII, this one manages to again delve into fresh territory, not pushing into the war so much as the effects it has on the people living in New York at the time.

But it is always the story of Joe and Sammy, and their personal experiences. It’s cinematic and vast, mind-blowing simple and yet incredibly complex. It’s an intense story, and well worth jamming through. It does the same tricks as Forrest Gump, mixing real famous figures with fiction, but instead of feeling hokey and gimmicky, it’s entirely natural. I will assuredly be picking up Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | February 13, 2009 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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