Special Read: Asterios Polyp

My favourite book of the year: Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli

Now, I've read a lot of fine books this year and this one just takes the cake. Asterios Polyp is a work more than ten years in the making. It's about a paper architect (one that designs but whose buildings are never constructed) and an arrogant professor.

As a star in his field, he meets a new sculpture instructor at a faculty party and they hit it off. He and Hana are married and they begin their life together. But Asterios's his insistence that the world can be defined in dualities jeopardizes their relationship. Asterios's compulsion to see everything as black and white is just his instinct, however. The protagonist is an identical twin; his brother Ignazio died at birth and Asterios cannot help but wonder how his brother, the narrator, would have done things differently.

I'm not even scratching the surface here ... and all there is is surface in this book. Mazzuchelli's epic work is mostly only about form here: how do we express our realities and consciousness to one another to create meaning? But it is explored through a truthful depiction of family, gender, and sex.

His telling of Hana's story is beautiful, unforgettable, and so true.

I read this book and then I read it again. That's something I can't say about Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware, my other favourite graphic novel and a strong parallel of Asterios. I love Ware's work. It fascinates me. It's clearly the work of a mad genius. It's sad and rich and complex. But it's also frustrating and difficult to read. These are all qualities that make me love Ware's work but I think that's where it differs so much from this book.

Asterios Polyp is simple to read but certainly complex. Mazzuchelli's use of colour (blue for Asterios, red for Hana, purple instead of black for outlines and shadows) is enough material for a Doctoral thesis. There is something to be said for the way that Mazuchelli refined the narrative into a simple story of a man finding redemption while skillfully infusing a meditation on meaning, expression, commerce, and art into the pages.

A fine achievement. Now, go read it.

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