Review: Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Title: Asterios Polyp
Author: David Mazzucchelli
Source: Library | This book won the LA Times Book Prize for Graphic Novels
344 pages




In a nutshell
Asterios Polyp is a middle-aged, meagerly successful architect and teacher, aesthete and womanizer. One night when his New York apartment goes up in flames, his whole life goes topsy-turvy, and he relocates to a small town. But how did he get there? Alternating between the present and the past, we see snippets of how his life was. We meet Hana, a first-generation Japanese American artist, with whom he had a blissful life. But now she's not there. What happened to them?

I think...
I quite liked the way this story is told. The splash of colors used made things very lively and sharp. Even for a graphic novel, it has some really memorable characters and deeply evocative character sketches. David Mazzucchelli has done a good job in developing some vivid characters. When the book starts, Asterios is portrayed as an arrogant teacher who thinks high of himself and spends much of his time teaching. When his apartment goes up in flames, he runs away from the life he knows and moves into a small town to work as a mechanic, although he doesn't know the first thing about repairing cars.

Alternating "chapters" recount his past and show how he is faring in the present. Through his past, we learn that he had once been in love with Hana, a shy but very talented artist, who stayed away from spotlights, to the extent of rejecting offers. I loved Hana! Asterios and Hana had a dynamic relationship. His ego caused him to often be sarcastically funny, while Hana always knew how to bring him down and handle him.


But Asterios is one of those characters I can never stand. The kinds that pretend to know everything, and usually have an opinion on anything and everything. At the messy home of a music composer, Asterios bosses around, not giving the composer much credit. I felt terribly sorry for the composer when every passionate statement of his was met with an aloof conjecture from Asterios.

When Asterios moves to a small town, he stays with Stiff, a mechanic whose wife Ursula is one hilarious character. She arranges his room in an auspicious layout, after inquiring his birth-date. When she finally shows him to his room, it looks really weird in a non-functional way.

Asterios Polyp has a well-illustrated storyline. The illustrations are well done, plus the emotions conveyed are strongly felt. Although I would recommend this book for its novel-format story-telling (similar to what I found in Chicken with Plums), I found it too preachy at times. There are whole "chapters" that I couldn't enjoy much, and I blame that mainly on my low perception of graphics. I'm sure someone who enjoys deciphering images and relating them to the main story and the hidden messages, would find this book wonderful. Moreover, most of the references to philosophy and philosophers were quite lost on me. This book has been touted to be the best among graphic novels in 2009, in plenty of lists, so I do feel that that I didn't grasp this book as much as I would like. I appreciated the vivid persona of Asterios Polyp, and how his beliefs shaped his character, but the frequent philosophical undertones just didn't capture my interest.

What did you think?
Have you read this book? I'd like to know what you thought about it. Please leave your review link in the comments, or a brief opinion, if you hadn't reviewed it.

Did you like it or you didn't? If you didn't, at what point did the book turn you off.

3 comments:

Ash said...

The images in this are great! I think I might still give it a try for that alone, hopefully my experience is a little better though.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Wow. How cool. I love all the different things you introduce me to.

Aths said...

Ash, I sure hope you enjoy it better than me. It had all the good elements in it. I read it for a read-a-thon which was another reason I couldn't enjoy it much.

Juju, thank you! :)

Julie, you should read Chicken with Plums. It is a great read!