There are books that not only create vivid characters but settings of incredible detail and vitality. In Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay the world the story unfolds in is portrayed as vividly as its characters. The smells, textures and sounds of Prague, New York, the Antarctica are all infused with mood and memory and potentiality. Unlike the settings of Austen or Asimov, Chabon’s descriptions of the world before, during and after the Second World War are fundamental to the story. Not one brick or breathe or smudge of smoke can be omitted.
The HD quality of the settings amplify the youthful exuberance and energy of two cousins: Sammy the American who as a gay man suffers much in the pyscho-babble anti-love morality of the USA; Joe the young Jewish exile from occupied Czechoslovakia, struggling to find a way to rescue his family. The vividness of the settings, their very richness and tangibility also highlights the terrifying muteness from Joe’s homeland. The holocaust is never depicted in this story, yet that silence from abroad is as powerful as it is chilling.
Joe, crippled by this uncommunicable horror, struggles to make the transition from the lost and utterly irrecoverable world and family he grew up in to the new life offered to him in America by Sammy and Rosa the artist who falls in love with Joe. In the15 years or so that the story covers Joe experiences joy, passion, success, riches, failure, grief, anger and desperate murderous rage. Sammy, a gay man in anti-gay world suffers also, humiliation and self-denial and the terrible chains of prejudice that bind and bite his heart, soul and creativity.
Unsurprisingly, things get complicated and confused in the lives of Joe, Sammy, Rosa and Tommy (the son of Joe and Rosa) and yet in the end the solution is very simple. No matter what society throws at us, we should accept what we are and love and support those around us. It is a message that may not seem that radical or innovative - Charles Dickens pretty much used it as the theme for all his novels - but the pain and murderous violence that is always quietly waiting in the background of this tale is a reminder not only of what happens when we turn against love and acceptance, but of how easy it is for each of us to stray onto the path that leads step by small and steady step to the gates to Auschwitz. Conversely, awareness of how easy it is to stray into evil is a powerful incentive for us to stay loving, kind and accepting.
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