Kavalier and Clay is the story of Josef Kavalier, a newly arrived refugee from Nazi-occupied Prague, and his Brooklyn-born-and-raised cousin Sammy Clay (né Klayman) and how they create some of the first cartoon superheroes, in the process revolutionizing the art of the comic book; their encounter with a Manhattan surrealist named Rosa Luxemburg Saks; and all their many amazing adventures between 1939 and 1954. It's also about the power of the imagination, the notion of escape, and—and this is the aspect much of the library's One Book programming will concentrate on—the idea of heroism.
Unlike its predecessor The Warmth of Other Suns (which you really should read, too, if you haven't already), Kavalier & Clay has no direct connection to Chicago. It's set mostly in and around New York City, with detours to Prague and Antarctica, and most of the main characters are immigrant or first-generation Jews. Don't let parochialism deter you.
"It is about Jews," says Peter Sagal of NPR's Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me, who also took part in the announcement and appears to love the book as much as I do. "But it's about an American city, an American experience. It's about gay people—it has the most beautiful gay love scene I've ever read. It's about how America reinvents itself and how people who come here with nothing are like superheroes. Becoming a superhero is an act of self-creation."
The theme of heroism was the ultimate reason the One Book, One Chicago committee, comprised of Bannon, his deputy Andrea Sáenz, and adult services director Craig Davis, chose Kavalier & Clay, its Pulitzer Prize (2001) notwithstanding, says Mary Beth Kraft of the library's press office. "They were presented with several choices and themes, and that one really stood out," she says. "The novel and theme and subsequent programming came together really well."
Chabon (pronounced "Che" as in "Guevara" and "bon" as in "Bon Jovi") will be at the Harold Washington Library on October 9 at 6 PM. Festivities will continue throughout next spring. Meanwhile, the One Book, One Chicago committee is already working on making its next selection.