- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay Lesson Plans for Teachers
- He'll discuss "Moonglow" Oct. 2 at Arts & Letters Live.
- Book Discussion: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon | Vermont Humanities
The natural fragrance of her body was a spicy, angry smell like fresh pencil shavings. He had known, dimly, that he had Czech cousins. But his mother had not said a word about any of them coming to visit, let alone to share Sammy's bed. He wasn't sure just how San Francisco fitted in to the story. She turned to Josef Kavalier. I want to tell you something. All right? You're here. He did not sound unconvinced. She handed him a washcloth and went out.
As soon as she left, Sammy reclaimed a few precious inches of mattress while his cousin stood there, rubbing at his mauled cheeks. After a moment, Mrs. Klayman switched off the light in the kitchen, and they were left in darkness. Sammy heard his cousin take a deep breath and slowly let it out The stack of newsprint rattled and then hit the floor with a heavy thud of defeat. His jacket buttons clicked against the back of a chair; his trousers rustled as he stepped out of them; he let fall one shoe, then the other. His wristwatch chimed against the water glass on the nightstand.
Then he and a gust of chilly air got in under the covers, bearing with them an odor of cigarette, armpit, damp wool, and something sweet and somehow nostalgic that Sammy presently identified as the smell, on his cousin's breath, of prunes from the leftover ingot of his mother's "special" meatloaf-prunes were only a small part of what made it so very special-which he had seen her wrap like a parcel in a sheet of wax paper and set on a plate in the Frigidaire.
So she had known that her nephew would be arriving tonight, had even been expecting him for supper, and had said nothing about it to Sammy. Josef Kavalier settled back against the mattress, cleared his throat once, tucked his arms under his head, and then, as if he had been unplugged, stopped moving. He neither tossed nor fidgeted nor even so much as flexed a toe. The Big Ben on the nightstand ticked loudly.
Josef's breathing thickened and slowed. Sammy was just wondering if anyone could possibly fall asleep with such abandon when his cousin spoke. His accent was vaguely German, furrowed with an odd Scots pleat. He had never gone farther on his soda-straw legs than Buffalo, never undertaken any crossing more treacherous than the flatulent poison-green ribbon that separated Brooklyn from Manhattan Island. In that narrow bed, in that bedroom hardly wider than the bed itself, at the back of an apartment in a solidly lower-middle-class building on Ocean Avenue, with his grandmother's snoring shaking the walls like a passing trolley, Sammy dreamed the usual Brooklyn dreams of flight and transformation and escape.
He dreamed with fierce contrivance, transmuting himself into a major American novelist, or a famous smart person, like Clifton Fadiman, or perhaps into a heroic doctor; or developing, through practice and sheer force of will, the mental powers that would give him a preternatural control over the hearts and minds of men. In his desk drawer lay-and had lain for some time-the first eleven pages of a massive autobiographical novel to be entitled either in the Perelmanian mode Through Abe Glass, Darkly or in the Dreiserian American Disillusionment a subject of which he was still by and large ignorant.
He had devoted an embarrassing number of hours of mute concentration-brow furrowed, breath held-to the development of his brain's latent powers of telepathy and mind control. And he had thrilled to that Iliad of medical heroics, The Microbe Hunters, ten times at least. But like most natives of Brooklyn, Sammy considered himself a realist, and in general his escape plans centered around the attainment of fabulous sums of money.
From the age of six, he had sold seeds, candy bars, houseplants, cleaning fluids, metal polish, magazine subscriptions, unbreakable combs, and shoelaces door-to-door. In a Zharkov's laboratory on the kitchen table, he had invented almost functional button-reattachers, tandem bottle openers, and heatless clothes irons. In more recent years, Sammy's commercial attention had been arrested by the field of professional illustration. The great commercial illustrators and cartoonists Rockwell, Leyendecker, Raymond, Caniff-were at their zenith, and there was a general impression abroad that, at the drawing board, a man could not only make a good living but alter the very texture and tone of the national mood.
In Sammy's closet were stacked dozens of pads of coarse newsprint, filled with horses, Indians, football heroes, sentient apes, Fokkers, nymphs, moon rockets, buckaroos, Saracens, tropic jungles, grizzlies, studies of the folds in women's clothing, the dents in men's hats, the lights in human irises, clouds in the western sky.
His grasp of perspective was tenuous, his knowledge of human anatomy dubious, his line often sketchy-but he was an enterprising thief. He clipped favorite pages and panels out of newspapers and comic books and pasted them into a fat notebook: a thousand different exemplary poses and styles. He had made extensive use of his bible of clippings in concocting a counterfeit Terry and the Pirates strip called South China Sea, drawn in faithful imitation of the great Caniff. He kept his sample strips in a fat cardboard portfolio under his bed, waiting for an opportunity, for his main chance, to present itself.
Particular in the night. No, call me Sam. To show your employer. Sadly, I am obligated to leave behind all of my work in Prague, but I can very quickly do much more that will be frightfully good. I am an artist, like you. This was statement he himself would never have been able to utter without lowering his fraudulent gaze to his show tops. For the Empire Novelties Incorporated Company. Then he blew it out.
Sometimes they let me do pasteup for an ad. Or when they add a new item to the line, I get to do the illustration. For that, they pay me two dollars per.
- Michael Chabon’s Moonglow: An OSS Fantasia ‘Memoir’ of the Post–World War II Rocket Race.
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He still had not moved a muscle. Sammy couldn't decide if this apparent utter motionlessness was the product of unbearable tension or a marvelous calm. No doubt, his mother writing to her brother in Prague, had believed that she was making an accurate report; it was Sammy who had been talking through his hat for the last year, embroidering, not only for her benefit but to anyone who would listen, the menial nature of his position at Empire Novelties.
Sammy was briefly embarassed, not so much at being caught out and having to confess his lowly status to his cousin, as at this evidence of a flaw in the omniveillant maternal loupe. Then he wondered if his mother, far from being hoodwinked by his boasting, had not in fact been counting on his having grossly exaggerated the degree of his influence over Sheldon Anapol, the owner of Empire Novelties. If he were to keep up the pretense to which he had devoted so much wind and invention, then he was all but obliged to come home from work tomorrow night clutching a job for Josef Kavalier in his grubby little stock clerk's fingers.
For another long while, neither of them spoke. This time, Sammy could feel that Josef was still awake, could almost hear the capillary tricklee of doubt seeping in, weighing the kid down. Sammy felt sorry for himi. I bought them at the Grand Central Station. Ten if you counted the Eagle and the Home News. Uh, Wall Street Journal. And the Brooklyn Eagle.
And the Home News in the Bronx. For the garments. They must have had something in the Times.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
A little. Nothing about the Jews.
It wasn't the latest diplomatic maneuverings in London and Berlin, or the most recent bit of brutal posturing by Adolf Hitler, that Josef was hoping to get news of. He was looking for an item detailing the condition of the Kavalier family. You know it? We got four Jewish newspapers in New York. They'd probably have something. We certainly have a lot of Germans. They've been marching and having rallies all over town. Not yet" Sammy felt Josef give his head a sharp shake, as if to end the discussion.
Do I smell? I wonder if Ethel can smell it.
She doesn't like it. I want to smoke, I've got to go out the window, there, onto the fire escape. It's a plant! Don't tell me you'd smoke-" Without warning, in a kind of kinetic discharge of activity that seemed to be both the counterpart and the product of the state of perfect indolence that had immediately preceded it, Josef rolled over and out of the bed. Sammy's eyes had by now adjusted to the darkness of his room, which was always, at any rate, incomplete. A selvage of gray-blue radiation from the kitchen tube fringed the bedroom door and mingled with a pale shaft of nocturnal Brooklyn, a compound derived from the haloes of streetlights, the headlamps of trolleys and cars, the fires of the borough's three active steel mills, and the shed luster of the island kingdom to the west, that came slanting in through a parting in the curtains.
In this faint glow that was, to Sammy, the sickly steady light of insomnia itself, he could see his cousin going methodically through the pockets of the clothes he had earlier hung so carefully from the back of the chair. Sammy shook his head. Josef came back to the bed and sat down.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay Lesson Plans for Teachers
He sat up on one arm, and with the other tugged the curtains apart, slowly so as not to produce the telltale creak. Then, gritting his teeth, he raised the sash of the window beside his bed, letting in a chilly hum of traffic and a murmuring blast of cold March midnight. Sammy's "ashtray" was an oblong terra-cotta pot, vaguely Mexican, filled with a sterile compound of potting soil and soot and the semipetrified skeleton, appropriately enough, of a cineraria that had gone unsold during Sammy's houseplant days and thus predated his smoking habit, still a fairly recent acquisition, by about three years.
Quickly, but not without a certain showiness, Josef split open seven butts, one-handed, and tipped the resultant mass of pulpy threads into the wrinkled scrap of Zig Zag. After half a minute's work, he had manufactured them a smoke. He walked on his knees across the bed to the window, where Sammy joined him, and they wriggled through the sash and thrust their heads and upper bodies out of the building. He handed the cigarette to Sammy and, in the precious flare of the match, as Sammy nervously sheltered it from the wind, he saw that Josef had prestidigitated a perfect cylinder, as thick and straight and nearly as smooth as if rolled by machine.
Sammy took a long drag of True Virginia Flavor and then passed the magic cigarette back to its crafter, and they smoked it in silence, until only a hot quarter inch remained. Then they climbed back inside, lowered the sash and the blinds, and lay back, bedmates, reeking of smoke. When they, when you were My mom was Josef Kavalier lifted his own head from the mattress and stuffed the pillow beneath it. Presently, his breathing grew steady and slowed to a congested rattle, leaving Sammy to ponder alone, as he did every night, the usual caterpillar schemes.
But in his imaginings, Sammy found that, for the first time in years, he was able to avail himself of the help of a confederate. From the author of The Dogs of Babel: If you'd asked me if I'd ever be interested in a book about the golden age of comic books, I would have said no But the characters are so utterly human, and their problems so real and so heartbreaking, that I loved every page. Why do you think Michael Chabon and the characters in the novel place so much importance on it?
From what and to what are the different characters in the novels escaping? When is escape good in the novel and when is it bad? Can the character of Joe Kavalier ever quit trying to escape, whether it is from place, like Prague and New York, or from relationships, like Rosa and Sammy? When Sammy leaves for LA, is this an escape, and if so, is it good or bad? Why do characters in this novel seem to be trying to escape relationships, and what are the different types of relationships that can be binding?
Does the escaping end at the conclusion of the novel? Compare the theme of escape in the novel to escapist nature of art. In what ways does Chabon explore this in his novel through the art of magic, and painting, and comics? Although the novel is clearly fiction, why do you think Michael Chabon goes to such lengths to make it feel real, by adding real historical facts and fictitious footnotes?
No, he thought, hecould not possibly disappoint them by coming home. When the train at last crawled back into thePrague station early that evening, Josef remained in his seat, unable to move, until a passing conductorsuggested, not unkindly, that the young gentleman had better get off. Josef wandered into the station bar, swallowed a liter and a half of beer, and promptly fell asleep in abooth at the back. Alter an indefinite period, a waiter came over to shake him, and Josef woke up,drunk. He wrestled his valise out into the streets of the city that he had, only that morning, seriouslyimagined he might never see again.
He drifted along Jerusalem Street, into the Josefov, and somehow,almost inevitably, his steps led him to Maisel Street, to the flat of his old teacher. He could not dash thehopes of his family by letting them see his face again; not, at any rate, on this side of the AtlanticOcean. If Bernard Kornblum could not assist him in escaping, at least he would be able to help him to. Kornblum handed Josef a cigarette and lit it for him. Then he went over to his armchair, settledcarefully into it, and lit another for himself.
Neither Josef Kavalier nor the Golem's keepers were thefirst to have approached Kornblum in the desperate expectation that his expertise with jail cells,straitjackets, and iron chests might somehow be extended to unlocking the borders of sovereignnations. Until this night, he had turned all such inquiries aside as not merely impractical, or beyond hisexpertise, but extreme and premature. Now, however, sitting in his chair, watching his former studentshuffle helplessly through the flimsy scraps of triplicate paper, train tickets, and stamped immigrationcards in his travel wallet, Kornblum's keen ears detected the sound, unmistakable to him, of thetumblers of a great iron lock clicking into place.
The Emigration Office, under the directorship of AdolfEichmann, had passed from mere cynical extortion to outright theft, taking applicants for everythingthey had in return for nothing at all. Britain and America had all but closed their doors—it was onlythrough the persistence of an American aunt and the geographic fluke of his birth in the Soviet Unionthat Josef had been able to obtain a U.
Meanwhile, here in Prague, not even a useless oldlump of river mud was safe from the predatory snout of the invader. Memel is in German hands now, but perhaps you can find passage from Priekule. It was one of those rare mornings at the sprawling Kavalier flat, in a lacy secession-stylebuilding off the Graben, when everyone sat down to eat breakfast together. The Doctors Kavaliermaintained exacting professional schedules and, like many busy parents, were inclined at once toneglect and indulge their children.
Herr Dr. Emil Kavalier was the author of Grundsatzen derEndikronologie, a standard text, and the identifier of Kavalier's acromegaly. Frau Dr. Anna Kavalierwas a neurologist by training who had been analyzed by Alfred Adler and had since gone on to treat, onher paisley divan, the cream of cathected young Prague. That morning, when Josef suddenly hunchedforward, gagging, eyes watering, scrabbling for his napkin, the father reached out from behind hisTageblatt and idly pounded Josef on the back.
His mother, without looking up from the latest number ofMonatsschrift fur Neurologie und Psychiatrie, reminded Josef, for the ten thousandth time, not to bolthis food. Only little Thomas noticed, in the instant before Josef brought the napkin to his lips, the glintof something foreign in his brother's mouth.
He got up from the table and went around to Josef's chair. He stared at his brother's jaws as they slowly worked over the offending bit of omelette. Josef ignoredhim and tipped another forkful into his mouth. He chewed with care, as if bothered by a sore tooth. Josef stuck two fingers between his right cheek and upper right gum and pulled out a flat strip of metal,notched at one end: a tiny fork, no longer than Thomas's pinkie.
Josef shrugged. Kavalier returned to his Tageblatt. Josef had become interested in stage magic right around the time his hands had grown large enough tohandle a deck of playing cards. Prague had a rich tradition of illusionists and sleight-of-hand artists,. He had studied for a year with a Czech named Bozic who called himself Rango and specialized in cardand coin manipulation, mentalism, and the picking of pockets.
He could also cut a fly in half with athrown three of diamonds. Soon Josef had learned the Rain of Silver, the Dissolving Kreutzer, theCount Erno pass, and rudiments of the Dead Grandfather, but when it was brought to the attention ofJosef's parents that Rango had once been jailed for replacing the jewelry and money of his audienceswith paste and blank Paper, the boy was duly removed from his tutelage. The phantom aces and queens, showers of silver korunas, and purloined wristwatches that had beenRango's stock in trade were fine for mere amusement. And for Josef, the long hours spent standing infront of the lavatory mirror, practicing the paintings, passes, slips, and sleights that made it possible toseem to hurl a coin into the right ear, through the brainpan, and out the left ear of a chum or relative, orto pop the knave of hearts into the handkerchief of a pretty girl, required a masturbatory intensity ofconcentration that became almost more pleasurable for him than the trick itself.
But then a patient hadreferred his father to Bernard Kornblum, and everything changed. Under Kornblum's tutelage, Josefbegan to learn the rigorous trade of the Ausbrecher from the lips of one of its masters. At the age offourteen, he had decided to consecrate himself to a life of timely escape. Since he worked with a minimum of patter,finding other means of distracting spectators was always an important consideration. Kornblum was among the few eastern Jews whom Josef hadever encountered. Kornblum, whose German was awkward and Czech nonexistent, had been born in a shtetl outside ofVilna and had spent most of his life wandering the provinces of imperial Russia, playing the odeons,barns, and market squares of a thousand small towns and villages.
He wore suits of an outdated,pigeon-breasted, Valentino cut. Because his diet consisted in large part of tinned fish—anchovies,smelts, sardines, tunny—his breath often carried a rank marine tang. Although a staunch atheist, henonetheless kept kosher, avoided work on Saturday, and kept a steel engraving of the Temple Mount onthe east wall of his room.
Until recently, Josef, then fourteen, had given very little thought to thequestion of his own Jewishness. He believed—it was enshrined in the Czech constitution—that Jewswere merely one of the numerous ethnic minorities making up the young nation of which Josef wasproud to be a son. The coming of Kornblum, with his Baltic smell, his shopworn good manners, hisYiddish, made a strong impression on Josef. Twice a week that spring and summer and well into the autumn, Josef went to Kornblum's room on thetop floor of a sagging house on Maisel Street, in the Josefov, to be chained to the radiator or tied handand foot with long coils of thick hempen rope.
Kornblum did not at first give him the slightest guidanceon how to escape from these constraints. Also you will get used to the feeling of the chain. The chain isyour silk pajamas now.
He'll discuss "Moonglow" Oct. 2 at Arts & Letters Live.
It is your mother's loving arms. Apart from this chair, an iron bedstead, a wardrobe, and the picture of Jerusalem on the east wall, nextto the lone window, the room was almost bare. The only beautiful object was a Chinese trunk carvedfrom some kind of tropical wood, as red as raw liver, with thick brass hinges, and a pair of fancifulbrass locks in the form of stylized peacocks. The locks opened by a system of tiny levers and springsconcealed in the jade eyespots of each peacock's seven tail feathers.
The magician pushed the fourteenjade buttons in a certain order that seemed to change each time he went to open the chest. For the first few sessions, Kornblum merely showed Josef different kinds of locks that he took out, oneby one, from the chest; locks used to secure manacles, mailboxes, and ladies' diaries; warded and pin-tumbler door locks; sturdy padlocks; and combination locks taken from strongboxes and safes.
Wordlessly, he would take each of the locks apart, using a screwdriver, then reassemble them. Towardthe end of the hour, still without freeing Josef, he talked about the rudiments of breath control. At last,in the final minutes of the lesson, he would unchain the boy, only to stuff him into a plain pine box. Hewould sit on the closed lid, drinking tea and glancing at his pocket watch, until the lesson was over. His touch was deft and,though he was well past sixty, his hands steady.
He would pick the locks, and then, for Josef's furtheredification, take them apart and pick them again with the works exposed. The locks, whether new orantique, English, German, Chinese, or American, did not resist his tinkerings for more than a fewseconds. He had, in addition, amassed a small library of thick, dusty volumes, many illegal or banned,some of them imprinted with the seal of the Bolsheviks' dreaded Cheka, in which were listed, in infinitecolumns of minuscule type, the combination formulae, by lot number, for thousands of the combinationlocks manufactured in Europe since For weeks, Josef pleaded with Kornblum to be allowed to handle a pick himself.
Contrary toinstructions, he had been working over the locks at home with a hat pin and a spoke from a bicyclewheel, with occasional success. Handing Josef his pick and a torque wrench, he led him to the doorof his room, in which he had himself installed a fine new Ratsel seven-pin lock. Then he unknotted hisnecktie and used it to blindfold Josef.
The door was cold against his cheek. When at last Kornblum removed the blindfold and motioned for Josef to climb into the coffin, Josefhad picked the Ratsel three times, the last in under ten minutes. On the day before Josef caused a disturbance at the breakfast table, after months of nauseous breathingdrills that made his head tingle and of practice that left the joints of his fingers aching, he had walkedinto Kornblum's room and held out his wrists, as usual, to be cuffed and bound.
Kornblum startled himwith a rare smile. He handed Josef a small black leather pouch. Unrolling it, Josef found the tiny torquewrench and a set of steel picks, some no longer than the wrench, some twice as long with smoothwooden handles. None was thicker than a broom straw. Their tips had been cut and bent into all mannerof cunning moons, diamonds, and tildes. You made these for me? He pointed to the bed, where he had laid out apair of brand-new German handcuffs and his best American Yale locks. His hands were also cuffed—infront of his body, so that he could smoke.
Without a word of advice or complaint from Kornblum, Josefgot the handcuffs and all but one of the locks off in the first hour. But the last lock, a one-pound Yale Dreadnought, with sixteen pins and drivers, frustrated his efforts. Josef sweated and cursed underhis breath, in Czech, so as not to offend his master. Kornblum lit another Sobranie. The tips of yourfingers have ears.
Quickly, he stroked the tip of the pick back and forth across the pins,feeling each one give in its turn, gauging the resistance of the drivers and springs. Each lock had itsown point of equilibrium between torque and friction; if you turned too hard, the plug would jam; toosoftly, and the pins wouldn't catch properly. With sixteen-pin columns, finding the point of equilibriumwas entirely a matter of intuition and style. Josef closed his eyes. He heard the wire of the pickhumming in his fingertips.
With a satisfying metallic gurgle, the lock sprang open. Kornblum nodded, stood up, stretched. However slow the progress of the lessons with Herr Kornblum had seemed to Josef, it had come tentimes slower for Thomas Kavalier. The endless tinkering with locks and knots that Thomas hadcovertly witnessed, night after night, in the faint lamplight of the bedroom the boys shared, was far lessinteresting to him than Josef's interest in coin tricks and card magic had been.
Thomas Masaryk Kavalier was an animated gnome of a boy with a thick black thatch of hair. When hewas a very young boy, the musical chromosome of his mother's family had made itself plain in him. Atthree, he regaled dinner guests with long, stormy arias, sung in a complicated gibberish Italian.
Duringa family holiday at Lugano, when he was eight, he was discovered to have picked up enough actualItalian from his perusal of favorite libretti to be able to converse with hotel waiters. Constantly calledupon to perform in his brother's productions, pose for his sketches, and vouch for his lies, he haddeveloped a theatrical flair. In a ruled notebook, he had recently written the first lines of the libretto foran opera, Houdini, set in fabulous Chicago.
He was hampered in this project by the fact that he hadnever seen an escape artist perform. In his imagination, Houdini's deeds were far grander than anythingeven the former Mr. Erich Weiss himself could have conceived: leaps in suits of armor from flamingairplanes over Africa, and escapes from hollow balls launched into sharks' dens by undersea cannons. The sudden entrance of Josef, at breakfast that morning, into territory once actually occupied by thegreat Houdini, marked a great day in Thomas's childhood.
After their parents had left—the mother for her office on Narodny; the father to catch a train for Brno,where he had been called in to consult on the mayor's giantess daughter—Thomas would not leaveJosef alone about Houdini and his cheeks. He lay on his bed, on his belly, watchingas Josef returned the torque wrench to its special wallet.
He shuddered. It was a private men's club,housed in a former inn on one of the Stare Mesto's most crooked and crepuscular streets, whichcombined the functions of canteen, benevolent society, craft guild, and rehearsal hall for the performingmagicians of Bohemia. Herr Kornblum took his supper there nearly every night. It was apparent toJosef that the club was not only the sole source of companionship and talk for his taciturn teacher butalso a veritable Hall of Wonders, a living repository for the accumulated lore of centuries of sleight andillusion in a city that had produced some of history's greatest charlatans, conjurors, and fakirs.
Josefbadly wanted to be invited to join. This desire had, in fact, become the secret focus of every sparethought a role soon afterward to be usurped by the governess, Miss Dorothea Horne. Part of thereason he was so irritated by Thomas's persistent questioning was that his little brother had guessed atthe constant preeminence of the Hofzinser Club in Josef's thoughts. Thomas's own mind was filled withByzantine, houris-and-candied-figs visions of men in cutaway coats and pasha pants walking aroundinside the beetle-browed, half-timbered hotel on Stupartska with their upper torsos separated from theirlower, summoning leopards and lyrebirds out of the air.
He swung himself around on his bed, leanedforward, and looked at Thomas. A fellow can learn such tricks in prison. Like this. Here was Houdini in a dinner jacket, hurtling from a crooked airplane in companywith a parachute, two chairs, a table, and a tea set, all trailing scrawls of velocity. The magician had asmile on his face as he poured tea for the parachute. He seemed to think he had all the time in theworld. Who's going to let me jump out of anairplane? He stood up.
He threw himself on the floor and rolled under the bed. A moment later, asmall wooden crate emerged, covered in dust-furred spider silk, its lid hinged on crooked loops of wire. Josef knelt and lifted the lid, revealing odd bits of apparatus and scientific supplies that had survivedtheir father's medical education. Adrift in a surf of ancient excelsior were a broken Erlenmeyer flask, aglass pear-shaped tube with a penny-head stopper, a pair of crucible tongs, the leather-clad box thatcontained the remains of a portable Zeiss microscope long since rendered inoperable by Josef, whohad once attempted to use it to get a better look at Pola Negri's loins in a blurry bathing photo torn froma newspaper , and a few odd items.
I'm not a claustrophobe. I could stay under here for weeks. Josef held up a long, glinting glass wand and brandished it as Kornblum himself might have done. Whose temperature are you going to take? At four o'clock on the morning of Friday, September 27, , the temperature of the water of theRiver Moldau, black as a church bell and ringing against the stone embankment at the north end ofKampa Island, stood at The night was moonless, and a fog lay over the riverlike an arras drawn across by a conjuror's hand.
A sharp wind rattled the seedpods in the bare limbs ofthe island's acacias. The Kavalier brothers had come prepared for cold weather. Josef had dressed themin wool from head to toe, with two pairs of socks each. In the pack he wore on his back, he carried apiece of rope, a strand of chain, the thermometer, half a veal sausage, a padlock, and a change ofclothes with two extra pairs of socks for himself.
He also carried a portable oil brazier, borrowed froma school friend whose family went in for alpinism. Although he did not plan to spend much time in thewater—no longer, he calculated, than a minute and twenty-seven seconds—he had been practicing in abathtub filled with cold water, and he knew that, even in the steam-heated comfort of the bathroom athome, it took several minutes to rid oneself of the chill. In all his life, Thomas Kavalier had never been up so early. He had never seen the streets of Prague soempty, the housefronts so sunken in gloom, like a row of lanterns with the wicks snuffed.
The cornershe knew, the shops, the carved lions on a balustrade he passed daily on his way to school, lookedstrange and momentous. Light spread in a feeble vapor from the streetlamps, and the corners wereflooded in shadow. He kept imagining that he would turn around and see their father chasing after themin his dressing gown and slippers. Josef walked quickly, and Thomas had to hurry to keep up with him. Cold air burned his cheeks. They stopped several times, for reasons that were never clear to Thomas, tolurk in a doorway, or shelter behind the swelling fender of a parked Skoda.
They passed the open sidedoor of a bakery, and Thomas was briefly overwhelmed by whiteness: a tiled white wall, a pale mandressed all in white, a cloud of flour roiling over a shining white mountain of dough. To Thomas'sastonishment, there were all manner of people about at this hour, tradesmen, cabdrivers, two drunkenmen singing, even a woman crossing the Charles Bridge in a long black coat, smoking and muttering toherself. And policemen. They were obliged to sneak past two en route to Kampa. Thomas was acontentedly law-abiding child, with fond feelings toward policemen. He was also afraid of them.
Hisnotion of prisons and jails had been keenly influenced by reading Dumas, and he had not the slightestdoubt that little boys would, without compunction, be interred in them. He began to be sorry to have come along. He wished he had never come up with the idea of havingJosef prove his mettle to the members of the Hofzinser Club. It was not that he doubted his brother'sability.
This never would have occurred to him. He was just afraid: of the night, the shadows, and thedarkness, of policemen, his father's temper, spiders, robbers, drunks, ladies in overcoats, and especially,this morning, of the river, darker than anything else in Prague. Josef, for his part, was afraid only of being stopped. Not caught; there could be nothing illegal, hereasoned, about tying yourself up and then trying to swim out of a laundry bag.
He didn't imagine thepolice or his parents would look favorably on the idea—he supposed he might even be prosecuted forswimming in the river out of season—but he was not afraid of punishment. He just did not wantanything to prevent him from practicing his escape. He was on a tight schedule. Yesterday he had. He was pleased with the wording, but it left him only two more days to get ready. For the past twoweeks, he had been picking locks with his hands immersed in a sinkful of cold water, and wrigglingfree of his ropes and loosing his chains in the bathtub.
Then, two days later, if all went well, he would have Thomas push him overthe railing of the Charles Bridge. He had absolutely no doubt that he would be able to pull off the trick. Holding his breath for a minute and a half posed no difficulty for him. Thanks to Kornblum's training,he could go for nearly twice that time without drawing a breath. Twenty-two degrees Celsius wascolder than the water in the pipes at home, but again, he was not planning to stay in it for long.
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A razorblade, for cutting the laundry sack, was safely concealed between layers of the sole of his left shoe, andKornblum's tension wrench and a miniature pick Josef had made from the wire bristle of a streetsweeper's push broom were housed so comfortably in his cheeks that he was barely conscious of theirpresence.
Such considerations as the impact of his head on the water or on one of the stone piers of thebridge, his paralyzing stage fright in front of that eminent audience, or helplessly sinking did notintrude upon his idee fixe. It was an icicle in Thomas's hand. Then he took the length ofchain Thomas offered him and wrapped it between and around his ankles several times before linkingthe ends with a heavy Ratsel he had bought from an ironmonger. Next he held out his wrists to Thomas,who, as he had been instructed, bound them together with the rope and tied it tightly in a hitch and apair of square knots.
Josef crouched, and Thomas cinched the sack over his head. He pulled his woolen gloves back on. I'm not coming out that way. Inside the sack, Josef was bent forward, reaching out with both arms extended,seeking the ground. The bag toppled over. Roll me into the water. It looked too small to contain his brother. You're my assistant. I'm not even in theinvitation. He knew he was betraying hisbrother's trust and the spirit of the mission, and it pained him to do so, but it couldn't be helped.
Come on, tie it back up. What aboutthe Hofzinser Club, eh? Don't you want me to take you to dinner there? This was the nameMiss Horne called him. Belly dancers. Turkish delight. All alone,without Mother and Father. Is your mouth bleeding? Quickly, he bent and cinched the sack, and rolled his brother into the river. The splash startledhim, and he burst into tears. A wide oval of ripples spread across the surface of the water. Fora frantic instant, Thomas paced back and forth on the embankment, still hearing the explosion of water. The cuffs of his trousers were drenched and cold water seeped in around the tongues of his shoes.
Hehad thrown his own brother into the river, drowned him like a litter of kittens. The next thing Thomas knew, he was on the Charles Bridge, running past the bridge's statues, headedfor home, for the police station, for the jail cell into which he would now gladly have thrown himself. But as he was passing Saint Christopher, he thought he heard something. He darted to the bridgeparapet and peered over. He could just make out the alpinist's rucksack on the embankment, the faintglow of the brazier.
The surface of the river was unbroken. Thomas ran back to the stairway that led back down to the island. As he passed the round bollard at thestair head, the slap of hard marble against his palm seemed to exhort him to brave the black water. Hescrambled down the stone stairs two at a time, tore across the empty square, slid down theembankment, and fell headlong into the Moldau. All this while Josef, blind, trussed, and stupid with cold, was madly holding his breath as, one by one,the elements of his trick went awry. When he had held out his hands to Thomas, he had crossed hiswrists at the bony knobs, flattening their soft inner sides against each other after he was tied, but therope seemed to have contracted in the water, consuming this half inch of wriggling room, and in apanic that he had never thought possible, he felt almost a full minute slip away before he could free hishands.
This triumph calmed him somewhat. He fished the wrench and pick from his mouth and,holding them carefully, reached down through the darkness for the chain around his legs. Kornblumhad warned him against the tight grip of the amateur picklock, but he was shocked when the tensionwrench twisted like the stem of a top and spun out of his fingers.
He wasted fifteen seconds gropingafter it and then required another twenty or thirty to slip the pick into the lock. His fingertips weredeafened by the cold, and it was only by some random vibration in the wire that he managed to hit thepins, set the drivers, and twist the plug of the lock. This same numbness served him much better when,reaching for the razor in his shoe, he sliced open the tip of his right index finger. Though he could seenothing, he could taste a thread of blood in that dark humming stuff around him.
Three and a half minutes after he had tumbled into the river, kicking his feet in their heavy shoes andtwo pairs of socks, he burst to the surface. Only Kornblum's breathing exercises and a miracle of habithad kept him from exhaling every last atom of oxygen in his lungs in the instant that he hit the water. Gasping now, he clambered up the embankment and crawled on his hands and knees toward the hissingbrazier.
The smell of coal oil was like the odor of hot bread, of warm summer pavement. He sucked updeep barrelfuls of air. The world seemed to pour in through his lungs: spidery trees, fog, the flickeringlamps strung along the bridge, a light burning in Kepler's old tower in the Klementinum. Abruptly, hewas sick, and spat up something bitter and shameful and hot. He wiped his lips with the sleeve of hiswet wool shirt, and felt a little better. Then he realized that his brother had disappeared. Shivering, hestood up, his clothes hanging heavy as chain mail, and saw Thomas in the shadow of the bridge,beneath the carved figure of Bruncvik, chopping clumsily at the water, paddling, gasping, drowning.
Josef went back in. The water was as cold as before, but he did not seem to feel it. As he swam, he feltsomething fingering him, plucking at his legs, trying to snatch him under. It was only the earth'sgravity, or the swift Moldau current, but at the time, Josef imagined that he was being pawed at by thesame foul stuff he had spat onto the sand. When Thomas saw Josef splashing toward him, he promptly burst into tears. As they splashed and wrestled in the middle of the river, theykept talking, though neither could remember later what the subject of the discussion had been.
Whatever it was, it struck them both afterward as having been something calm and leisurely, like themurmurs between them that sometimes preceded sleep. At a certain point, Josef realized that his limbsfelt warm now, even hot, and that he was drowning. His last conscious perception was of BernardKornblum cutting through the water toward them, his bushy beard tied up in a hair net Josef came to anhour later in his bed at home.
It took two more days for Thomas to revive; for most of that time, noone, least of all his doctor parents, expected that he would. He was never quite the same afterward. Hecould not bear cold weather, and he suffered from a lifelong snuffle. Also, perhaps because of damageto his ears, he lost his taste for music; the libretto for Houdini was abandoned. The magic lessons were broken off—at the request of Bernard Kornblum. Throughout the difficultweeks that followed the escapade, Kornblum was a model of correctness and concern, bringing toysand games for Thomas, interceding on Josef's behalf with the Kavaliers, shouldering all the blamehimself.
The Doctors Kavalier believed their sons when they said that Kornblum had had nothing to dowith the incident, and since he had saved the boys from drowning, they were more than willing toforgive. Josef was so penitent and chastened that they even would have been willing to allow hiscontinued studies with the impoverished old magician, who could certainly not afford to lose a pupil.
But Kornblum told them that his time with Josef had come to an end. He had never had so naturallygifted a student, but his own discipline— which was really an escape artist's sole possession—had notbeen passed along. He didn't tell them what he now privately believed: that Josef was one of thoseunfortunate boys who become escape artists not to prove the superior machinery of their bodies againstoutlandish contrivances and the laws of physics, but for dangerously metaphorical reasons.
Such menfeel imprisoned by invisible chains—walled in, sewn up in layers of batting. For them, the final feat ofautoliberation was all too foreseeable. Kornblum was, nevertheless, unable to resist offering that final criticism to his erstwhile pupil on hisperformance that night.
It proved to be a quite ordinary place, witha cramped, dimly lit dining room that smelled of liver and onions. There was a small library filled withmoldering volumes on deception and forgery. In the lounge, an electric fire cast a negligible glow overscattered armchairs covered in worn velour and a few potted palms and dusty rubber trees. An oldwaiter named Max made some ancient hard candies fall out of his handkerchief into Thomas's lap.
They tasted of burned coffee. The magicians, for their part, barely glanced up from their chessboardsand silent hands of bridge. Where the knights and rooks were missing, they used spent rifle cartridgesand stacks of prewar kreuzers; their playing cards were devastated by years of crimps, breaks, andpalmings at the hands of bygone cardsharps.
Since neither Kornblum nor Josef possessed anyconversational skills, it fell upon Thomas to carry the burden of talk at the table, which he dutifully diduntil one of the members, an old necromancer dining alone at the next table, told him to shut up.
Book Discussion: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon | Vermont Humanities
Atnine o'clock, as promised, Kornblum brought the boys home. During a moment when the fate ofthe Altneuschul had appeared uncertain, the members of the secret circle had arranged for their chargeto be moved from its ancient berth, under a cairn of decommissioned prayer books in the synagogue'sattic, to a room in a nearby apartment block, newly constructed by a member of the circle who, inpublic life, was a successful speculator in real estate.
After this burst of uncommon activity, however,the ghetto-bred inertia and disorganization of the circle reasserted itself. The move, supposed to havebeen only temporary, somehow was never undone, even after it became clear that the Altneuschulwould be spared. A few years later, the old yeshiva in whose library a record of the transfer was storedfell under the wrecking ball, and the log containing the record was lost As a result, the circle was ableto provide Kornblum with only a partial address for the Golem, the actual number of the apartment inwhich it was concealed having been forgotten or come into dispute.
The embarrassing fact was thatnone of the current members of the circle could remember having laid eyes on the Golem since early Josef gave anervous tug at his false beard, which was making his chin itch. He was also wearing a mustache and awig, all ginger in color and of good quality, and a pair of heavy round tortoiseshell spectacles. Consulting his image in Kornblum's glass that morning, he had struck himself, in the Harris tweedspurchased for his trip to America, as looking quite convincingly Scottish.
It was less clear to him whypassing as a Scotsman in the streets of Prague was likely to divert people's attention from his andKornblum's quest. As with many novices at the art of disguise, he could not have felt more conspicuousif he were naked or wearing a sandwich board printed with his name and intentions. He looked up and down Nicholasgasse, his heart smacking against his ribs like a bumblebee at awindow.
In the ten minutes it had taken them to walk here from Kornblum's room, Josef had passed hismother three times, or rather had passed three unknown women whose momentary resemblance to hismother had taken his breath away. He was reminded of the previous summer following one of theepisodes he imagined to have broken his young heart when, every time he set out for school, for theGerman Lawn Tennis Club under Charles Bridge, for swimming at the Militar- undCivilschwimmschule, the constant possibility of encountering a certain Fraulein Felix had renderedevery street corner and doorway a potential theater of shame and humiliation.
Only now he was thebetrayer of the hopes of another. He had no doubt that his mother, when he passed her, would be able tosee right through the false whiskers. He had trimmed his own beard, rinsing out the crackle ofcoppery red which, Josef had been shocked to discover, he had been using for years. He wore rimlessglasses and a wide-brimmed black hat that shadowed his face, and he leaned realistically on a malaccacane.
Kornblum had produced the disguises from the depths of his marvelous Chinese trunk, but saidthat they had come originally from the estate of Harry Houdini, who made frequent, expert use ofdisguise in his lifelong crusade to gull and expose false mediums. Restrooms are across the outer lobby from the entrance to the theatre. Fill s know partner trons to expectthe a o p t many t and return first one ou anager by the m e.
You may wait in the lobby during the dinner break; it will remain open, however our concessions counter staff will also be taking a break at that time. If you prefer to make your own dinner plans, please return within 40 minutes. There is no late seating at Book-It. Many thanks to all our supporters! The model for the first golem was Adam. In the Bible, on the sixth day of creation, the inspiration of the Divine Name was breathed into his nostrils, releasing him from his primordial lump of clay into the Garden of Eden. Since only God may generate perfect life, the making of a golem is dangerous territory.
It is only the most pious and righteous tzaddiks spiritual superheroes , learned in the mystical Kabbalah, who undertake this ritual—and only for the purposes of good. Even so, all golems are ultimately flawed, without the power of speech or a soul. Inevitably, they are doomed to turn on their masters.
Then, the inanimate humanoid is brought to life by the application of magical amulets, mystical incantations, reciting the names of God, or intoning the letters of the Hebrew alphabet just as God created the world in the Kabbalistic Book of Creation. The most storied formula is the application of the Hebrew word emet truth to his lifeless forehead or under his limp, gray tongue.
Historically, legends of golems as defenders of persecuted Jews first proliferated in the Middle Ages, especially at Passover, when accusations of Blood Libels an anti-Semitic belief that Jews kidnapped and murdered the children of Christians to use their blood as part of their religious rituals were widespread.
A cycle of retaliation would ensue: beatings, burnings, pogroms, and then counterattack by the local golem. The geneology of the most famous golems dates back to lateth-century Prague. This creature was born under the auspices of the Rabbi Judah Loew Ben Bezalel, also known as the Maharal of Prague, who is said to have created an exceptionally powerful defender of the ghetto denizens.
He was tireless and uncomplaining, until one Sabbath, Loew failed to deactivate his servant. Even a golem must be allowed a day to rest. Yossele went berserk, ripping up trees and destroying forests and fields—and desecrating the Shabbos. Once Yossele wreaked his havoc, the rabbi had no choice but to destroy the work of his hands, returning it back to primordial mud. A recent story tells of a Nazi agent scaling the walls of the synagogue in an attempt to annihilate the golem forever.
There are plays, musicals, movies, novels, operas, and even a ballet based on the golem legend. I could not have taken on this project without a brilliant and generous team of collaborating artists, beginning with Josh Aaseng whose initial passion for the novel, his brave conversation with the author, and his early work with adapter Jeff Schwager was critical to getting us launched. Thanks to an NEA grant, we were blessed to have a twoweek workshop last November.
I collected as many artists as I could fit into a room who would not be afraid to get messy with experimentation. Every day, cast members would splay out on the floor with big rolls of paper drawing their own visions of The Escapist adventures. Local award-winning comic book artist David Lasky taught us all Comic Book Drawing ; Czech-born artist, Klara Glosova shared her authentic gritty aesthetic and brilliant mind; Michael Owcharuk banged out whole New York City-scapes on the piano; Steffan Soule unveiled to us in strict confidence the secrets of performing magic; designers Kent Cubbage and Pete Rush gathered and witnessed and discussed and helped shape things from a technical standpoint; and dramaturg extraordinaire Lenore.
www.hiphopenation.com/mu-plugins/ralls/lese-free-mobile-dating.php Scenic designer Christopher Mumaw envisioned our world with such courage and tenacity. And finally, but nowhere near least, I was blessed with our superhero stage managers, Victoria Thompson and Miranda Pratt, who saved us all. So we committed to a four-act structure with a dinner break—a risk that I am so proud Book-It was willing to take. In the book as in life, accessing inspiration can come at a price. The novel has since gained cult-like stature among enthusiasts of classic comics, magic, and more.
Richard is thrilled to be making his Seattle debut with Book-It. He is the creator and performer of The Holler Sessions, a new show about jazz, obsession, and the soul of America. Frank is from East Lansing, Mich. Robert has been living and working in the Seattle area as an actor, producer, and teacher for the past three and a half years.