Alan's Reviews > The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
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's review
Oct 20, 2009

it was amazing
Recommended for: Anyone for whom Siegel and Schuster are touchstones
Read in September, 2009 , read count: 2

There are at least two ways to write good fiction. One is to write about things the way they ought to be; the other is to write about things that should never be. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay partakes of both, and it is, in precise terms, amazing.

Michael Chabon is a master of vigorous, evocative prose. Take this description of Bernard Kornblum, Kavalier's early mentor, a Jew in Prague during the early days of Nazi occupation:
"Kornblum, whose encyclopedic knowledge of the railroads of this part of Europe was in a few short years to receive a dreadful appendix"{...}"

What foreboding that brief metaphor creates! And the whole book is like this, written in prose now fiery, now erudite, often elegaic, that seems sometimes as if it could create from mere words an answer to every evil. Observations like this one are scattered throughout:
"Every golden age is as much a matter of disregard as of felicity."

The plot, the structure on which Chabon hangs these fierce curtains of words, must not be neglected either. A counterfactual that could have happened, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay follows the gifted young artist Josef Kavalier as he, alone among his family, escapes Nazi-occupied Prague to wind up with his cousin Samuel Klayman in New York City. There they catch the crest of the first wave of superhero comics with The Escapist, in part modeled on the above-mentioned Bernard Kornblum, a hero whose wish-fulfillment war against the Nazis is inspiring even when conveyed solely in text. But Kavalier comes to see this profitable comic-book conflict as futile, and after Pearl Harbor he enlists in the Navy of his adopted country, leaving behind his loved ones—Samuel, the beauteous Rosa Saks, and The Escapist...

When I neared the end of the book, I slowed down, both to savor it and to prolong the time until I would need to put it back on the shelf again. I don't do that with many books, but this one is—in that way as well—an exception.

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