With her trademark style, wit, sensitivity, and spontaneity, Maira Kalman guides a whirlwind tour of American democracy. And the Pursuit of Happiness
is beloved artist and author Maira Kalman's yearlong investigation of democracy and how it works. Energized and inspired by the 2008 elections, on inauguration day Kalman traveled to Washington, D.C., launching a national tour that would take her from a town hall meeting in Newfane, Vermont, to the inner chambers of the Supreme Court.
As we follow Kalman's wholly idiosyncratic journey, we fall in love with Lincoln alongside her as she imagines making a home for herself in the center of his magisterial memorial; ponder Alexis de Tocqueville's America; witness the inner workings of a Bronx middle-school student council; take a high-speed lesson in great American women in the National Portrait Gallery; and consider the cost of war to the brave American service families of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The observations she makes as she travels charm and inform, and-as we have come to expect with Kalman-the route is always one of fascinating indirection.
Kalman finds evidence of democracy at work all around us. And the cast of characters we meet along the way is rousing good company, featuring visits from Benjamin Franklin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and many others. And the Pursuit of Happiness
is a remarkable tribute to our history and a powerful reminder of the potential our future holds, from a true national treasure.
A Look Inside And the Pursuit of Happiness
(Click on Images to Enlarge)
*Starred Review* First published as an illustrated, 12-part blog in the New York Times, artist-author Kalman’s wonderfully idiosyncratic meditation on democracy is now available in a single volume. Despite its original episodic publication, the book coheres beautifully in terms of both artistic unity and the careful evolution of its overarching theme. Each chapter—beginning with the January inauguration of Barack Obama, an event that was the catalyst for the book—represents a month of Kalman’s yearlong quest, which included visits to both coasts. Thus, the month of February is devoted to her loving celebration of Abraham Lincoln; March to “the essence of democracy, the town meeting”; and so on to December, which concerns George Washington and, finally, a tender and loving evocation of happiness itself. Kalman’s art and its wonderful interaction with her hand-lettered text is every bit as idiosyncratic as her approach to her subject, and the result is an achievement that evokes her widely praised picture books for children. Sprinkled among her art—as always, evocative of Matisse—are photographs, whose realism offers a nice counterpoint to her more stylized drawings. Whether you think of this book as a graphic novel, a picture book, or an album, it is sure to leave you feeling happy—about democracy and humanity. --Michael Cart