[SPOILER ALERT] Back in my college days when my mind was impressionable, my camaraderie with fiction kicked off with Jeffrey Archer’s “Kane and Abel”. This novel helped me realise that books too can hold your interest. This was my first big, fat book. I started and finished it off quickly. It was also my first attempt at reading a novel which was commercially successful. Evidently, I am emotional about it, even though I may not be excessively sentimental either.
I can well remember what hooked me to the book from the get-go. It wasn’t only about the story, flow or the characters. It was the process involved. It was about taking pleasure in starting out with a sentence, putting it into the right perspective, deriving a distinct satisfaction in the narration and the way it expressed everything in a captivating manner, and exploring the subjects even if they were just for the purpose of understanding the story. Frankly, since then (and the years after), I have not found anything that has given me such an all-round contentment.
If you pick this book, you are going to enjoy it, no matter what. Even if this may not be your first book, and irrespective of your motivation behind picking this up, I can assure you that your pleasure in reading “Kane and Abel ” will be same as was mine. It will leave you ecstatic. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is “Kane and Abel” for you.
Character-driven novels like “Kane and Abel” are among the best examples of holistic entertainment. Their narrative force is drawn by pitting the central characters against one another and adding higher stakes with each confrontation. “Kane and Abel” has the same narrative force, but on an expert level. The tug-of-war between Kane and Abel is iconic and written deftly.
The novel has alternating chapters dedicated to William Lowell Kane and Wladek Koskiewicz (re-christened as Abel Rosnovski). Soon, you would be living the lives, beliefs, struggles, and motivations of Kane and Abel. Exciting people and events enter and exit their lives, but they remain pivotal all through. What defines their character is their extraordinary grit, tact and ever-consuming ambitions. Individuals of different worlds and cultures, they have nothing common except their mutual hatred and a common date of birth. Each event and character in the plot flows fluidly. You have a heady mix of mystery, drama, thrill and suspense – and the best part is that you can’t put this novel down. Neither can you put this under one particular genre.
William Kane is the scion of a rich and powerful ‘Boston Brahmin ‘family. He is destined to inherit his father’s Kane & Cabot Bank. He is brought up in luxury and has access to the best the world can provide. On the other hand, Abel Rosnovski is a poor bastard born in the wilderness of Poland. His life is filled with real grit. You witness his meteoric rise and fall in a manner that only Mr Archer is capable of etching out, with his penchant of drama and wit. Rosnovski reaches the America after much hardship. Soon enough, he finds his bearings and becomes the baron of the Richmond group. He started his career at a most basic level in Richmond. It is at this juncture that he first confronts a determined and pragmatic William Kane – now all grown-up and the chairman of the Kane & Cabot Bank. William Kane is obviously apprenticed from his birth to take the helm of the bank. Kane, at one point during the Great Depression, decides not to support the owner of the Richmond group who also happens to be Abel’s mentor. The owner commits suicide – and the rivalry between Kane and Abel shoots up and is never settled until it consumes one of them.
The narratives on Kane as well as Abel have their separate pull. On one hand, you will see some fine glimpses of financial management, student politics, lives of the rich and powerful in William Kane’s story. On the other hand, Rosnovski’s life will teach you all about struggling and surviving against the odds, poverty and making the most of your opportunities. You are pulled between two fascinating worlds – and you really wouldn’t want to take sides here.
Things couldn’t have been this fascinating had Archer not shown his mastery over the craft of character development. You identify with the major and the minor characters. From their birth to their childhood, adolescence and on to their adulthood, all are well-pronounced. Even their deaths have been dealt with consummate artistry. By the end of the story, you know every character’s eccentricity and whims.
The story is rich in historical details. Events like the two World Wars, the Great Depression, the election of John F Kennedy are integrally woven into the story. The fun part for me here was to discover these events in detail by also researching them outside the novel.
Told in the way of an epic saga, this novel runs on a linear timeline. The progression is logical, the pace is racy, events gel well, with no hiccups – and there’s barely a plot hole. However, there are some clichés like the children of the rival fathers falling in love with each other (therefore giving another dimension to their rivalry). Sounds too Indian, you say? Yes, it is! However, I can see the reason behind such clichés. Archer had a sequel in his mind. But, strictly speaking in the context of the novel, the episode of Richard Kane falling in love with Florentyna Rosnovski could have been avoided. I know Archer could have dealt with this separately in “The Prodigal Daughter” with equal deftness.
When I read Jeffery Archer’s books, I expect certain things in his plot – elements like two powerful protagonists vying for power, a war fought in the world of high finance and stock markets, and a generous dose of history and politics. However, he has done these elements to the death in the recent times. He continues to use the same plot devices even today. After all, by riding on these plot elements, Mr Archer struck gold with “Kane And Abel”. They have worked for him and have won him laurels – so one can understand his affinity to these typical plot elements. When published, “Kane and Abel” instantly became an international sensation. Honestly, he might have published various successful novels after this, but in my opinion, he has never been able to repeat this feat quite like “Kane and Abel”. It has sold millions of copies till now, and it’s almost up there with “Gone with the Wind” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
Commercial success and wide popularity, however, do not often translate into literary merit. This is also the case here. If you weigh the novel on its literary merits, it will definitely fall short in many aspects. If the descriptions are captivating, then most of the time, you will find that the author is not ‘showing’ you things but ‘telling’ them. The dialogues also read a bit forced, manufactured and not like natural responses. But all these slips never compromise the force of its narration and the entertainment value.
We can discuss the literary merits and demerits of the novel at length, but the one thing that stands true for me is that “Kane and Abel” was captivating and a sheer joy. The character development and exquisite narration stand out. The racy pace will not let you put down the book – and with history as its background, you can always learn what defined the lives of many individuals at that time.