We meet Asterios at about the lowest point in his life, after his wife Hana has left him and he has lost his job as a professor of architecture and all of his possessions have been destroyed in an apartment fire. With only the clothes on his back and three keepsakes in his pocket, he sets off to find a new life. In flashbacks, we learn that Asterios was pompous, irritable and self-centred. It is no wonder that Hana left him. She is a sculptor who uses found materials to create organic, whimsical structures. Asterios sees things as strictly black and white and he values only functional designs. He is not a likable man and yet I felt sympathetic to his plight, so beaten down in the opening chapter.
This is a graphic novel that makes full use of the storytelling and emotional powers of art itself. Mazzucchelli's style changes with the characters. Narrative and side commentaries are offered by illustrations that take us beyond the written text. Asterios is always shown in profile, in a style that reminds me of the old man in Pascal Blanchet's La Fugue, (which may be why I warmed to Asterios immediately, come to think of it).
The tragedy inherent in the human experience. Lots of humour. Lots of literary references. Magnificent, expressive art. This book is fabulous.