Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America - the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. With exhilarating style and grace, Michael Chabon tells an unforgettable story about American romance and possibility.
Michael Chabon (b. 1963) is an acclaimed and bestselling author whose works include the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). Chabon achieved literary fame at age twenty-four with his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), which was a major critical and commercial success. He then published Wonder Boys (1995), another bestseller, which was made into a film starring Michael Douglas. One of America’s most distinctive voices, Chabon has been called “a magical prose stylist” by the New York Times Book Review, and is known for his lively writing, nostalgia for bygone modes of storytelling, and deep empathy for the human predicament.
Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman are drinking Peet's coffee and eating zampanos in front of the Cheeseboard on Shattuck Avenue.
MC: Ayelet, I'm trying to think of a new idea for a novel. It's gotta be fresh, bold.... Something nobody's ever thought of before!
AW: Wow, Michael, that's a tough one. There have been so very many novels written over the years, it's hard to come up with something new that's never been done before....
MC: Yeah, I need an idea that's totally original..... Maybe I should ask the kids, they're creative... Hey, where are the kids?
AW: The kids? I don't know. We had 'em when we left Andronico's....
MC: That's odd....
AW: Ah, fuck 'em. The important thing is that we're together. Let's focus on thinking of something innovative, new, a bit wild....
MC: Ayelet -- I have an idea! An idea for my next novel!
AW: What? What?
MC: It'll be about..... some boys!
MC: Yes, some -- some JEWISH boys! And they're....
AW: They're what, Michael?? What are they doing???
MC: They're living in -- in BROOKLYN!!
AW: (gasps) It's.... BRILLIANT! My God!
MC: But not the Brooklyn of today, Ayelet, no -- Brooklyn during the middle of the last century!
AW: Oh, Michael -- you're a genius! No one's ever written a book like that before!
MC: You know what else??
AW: Don't tell me -- no, no, do! DO! Tell me right away!!!
MC: These boys.... they're into comic books! I mean, REALLY into comic books.
AW: Comic books? Jewish boys living in Brooklyn in the middle of the last century, who're really into comic books? Oh Michael, do you think the world is ready for a novel like that? Such a drastic break with the entire history of American literature -- it could be risky!
MC: It could be, that's true. Especially if I mention..... the NAZIS!
AW: It's bold, Michael. It's bold, but I think... you should do it. You know, guys like Jonathan Lethem would give their left nut to come up with ideas like this.
MC: Guys like Jonathan Lethem don't have my vocabulary.
AW: I bet you get a Pulitzer for this one, babe.
MC: I bet I do too.
Bookster: Jessica, what the hell is your problem? What are you even talking about???
J: Uh..... nothing.
B: Did you even read this book?
J: (quietly) No.
B: Do you know anything ABOUT these people?
J: (looks down) No.
B: Or this book?
B: You know, I happen to love this brilliant novel. Michael Chabon is a highly gifted writer, and so his wife, who is also an extremely caring and wonderful mother, much better than you'd ever be. What do you think this behavior is all about, J?
J: (makes small shrugging motion, mumbles incoherently)
B: Can you speak up a little?
J: (more distinctly) I didn't like the beginning. (clears throat) Actually, I hated the beginning. It made me want to throw up. It made me want to throw up and....
J: And it also made me want to fall asleep. So I got....
J: I got scared, B. You know that's how Jimi Hendrix died, right?
B: You're pathetic.
J: Hey, you asked.
B: You are a small person.
J: That may be.
B: You're jealous. And also not smart. You're just mad because you don't have any Pulitzers or babies, and you never will!
J: HEY, woah! Where's all THAT coming from?
B: Okay, sorry, I didn't mean.... Look, I happen to like both these writers a lot, okay? Maybe we should just stop here. Don't you have things you're supposed to be doing?
J: I guess I do, yeah.
B: You should get off the Internet. This is a little bit crazy.
J: It's been tough lately. My small life. You know, lonely, childless, semi-literate.....
B: Look, I said I was sorry. Can we drop it?
J: Yeah, fine, sure. Whatever you say.
B: You should really read this book, though. Your characterization of it is insulting and ridiculous. If you gave it half a chance, you'd be totally amazed.
“Yeah – you. You wouldn’t know great American literature if a pigeon pooed it all over your anorak.”
Wow – that was surreal… who the hell were those guys?
At the office
“The boss wants to see you.”
Oh my… that’s Mrs Higgins sitting there with Mr Duthie – she’s from the HR department! What’s going on?
“Paul, hi, sit down, yes. This is… rather awkward. You see, it has come to our attention that you’ve been, well, how can I put this delicately, heard to say… hmmm…that Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is well… not bad. Pretty good. Okay-ish. That kind of thing.”
“Er, yes, that’s right, I have.”
“Hmmm, well. Er – Mrs Higgins, can you explain?”
“Certainly. Mr Bryant, we have a copy of the terms and conditions of employment which you signed. As you know, part one clearly states that the employee agrees to promote the company’s mission at all times. The mission is encapsulated in the Mission Statement. Perhaps you need reminding of it.
Our mission statement :
We undertake to manufacture by carbon neutral means the world’s greatest sprockets and to work in harmonic partnership with our friends, colleagues and customers to ensure Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is recognised throughout the English speaking world as the Great American Novel”
“Wow, I had never seen that last bit!”
“It was revised in 2000 when Mr Chabon published the novel.”
“Well, I’m not sure I like the drift of this discussion. I don’t dislike Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay! It’s pretty good!”
“Well, Paul… I’m very sorry, but that’s sort of the point of this interview. Really though, I’m surprised at you. Do you know that Bret Easton Ellis declared the novel "one of the three great books of my generation" ? Did you not know that?”
“Well, ,but, with respect Mr Duthie, Bret Easton Ellis is an overhyped jerk whose theatre of cruelty has been gulling the young and the impressionable for decades! His opinion counts for less than nothing! Less than nothing, do you hear me, less than nothing!” Bangs table.
Mr Duthie groans and puts his head in his hands.
“Mr Bryant, this is to formally inform you that this is your first formal written warning regarding this matter. Here. File it. Next to The Rules of Attraction.”
At the hairdressers
“I’m sorry Mr Bryant, nobody is available to cut your hair today.”
“But I see three of them hunched over a dog-eared copy of Wonder Boys and they’re clearly not cutting anyone’s hair!”
Third witness : I clearly heard him say that if Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” is the great American novel then Everybody Loves Raymond is the great American sitcom.
Crowd : Ooooh – we like Everybody Loves Raymond too.
Prosecutor : Mr Bryant, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a magical novel. Its recreation of the golden age of the comics industry is, although cloaked in fiction, picture perfect. Its characters -- Joe and his struggle to bring his family to America; Sam and his complex relationship to his father; Rosa and the depths of both her talent and compassion -- are gripping. This novel's epic sweep is constructed with tender moments of heartfelt intimacy. The story itself is, in many ways, the story of the USA itself: the Depression, the American dream, isolationism, the dichotomy of racism and integration, sexual repression, the Second World War, the paranoid 1950s. How , therefore, can you describe it as – I quote – “often like reading a recipe book instead of eating the cake…the seventy five earnest historical facts per paragraph tend to slow the story down to a sludgy creep for fifty pages at a time…” and this… “Every 50 pages or so I had to read a couple more ecstatic reviews to jolt me into continuing, which was like getting sick of one’s exercycle and watching a George Clooney movie and thinking okay I remember why I am doing this and getting back on the exercycle.”
Crowd : booooo! Boooo!
Me : Hey, where did you get that from?
Prosecutor : this is from your very own Goodreads review…
PB : But but that’s not there anymore
Prosecutor : no, of course not, the management deleted it within ten minutes. They run a responsible book reviewing site!
“Jeez, the day I’ve had.”
“Yeah, but look, you bring this down on yourself. I mean, the Daily Telegraph said Perfection. There are perhaps four other novels I’ve enjoyed this much. And none of them has made me cry more."
“Well.. er… that reviewer must have led a very sheltered life. And not read many books.”
“My mother was right! You have a heart of stone! And very poor critical facilities! Oh, what have I done! Why did this happen to me?”
My favourite adventure with a novel so far this year. I loved it to bits.
In many ways attempting to review this novel is like thinking back through an illusionist or an escape artist’s performance of his trick and trying to work out exactly how he did it. You’re left a little baffled by the nature of the magic of the thing. Ironically for a novel inspired by magicians, there are few tricks in this novel. It features no post-modernist sleights of hand with regards structure or voice. It is straightforward storytelling at its most magical and engrossing – the plot frequently twisting with fresh surges of adrenalin. Its mesmerising power is all in the vitality and hightide imaginative reach of its story and the compelling moving humanity of its two main characters, Josef Kavalier and his American cousin Sam Clay.
The premise: Josef Kavalier’s family pay for him to emigrate from Prague to New York as the Nazis rise to power. As often was the case for Jewish families in those days the Nazi authorities kept the money but withheld the necessary papers at the last minute. Eighteen year old Joe, with the aid of his Houdini like escape artist teacher, has to smuggle himself out of occupied Prague in a coffin with Prague’s legendary Golem. He eventually makes it to Brooklyn and shares a room with his cousin Sam Clay. The way Sam initially looks after Joe and introduces him to his world and the way their bond liberates Sam is beautifully portrayed. Sam too is a great fan of Houdini and together they invent The Escapist, a superhero whose attraction to Joe is that he can vicariously use him to wage a one man war on the Nazis. Joe’s ambition now is to pay for his family to escape the Nazis. Escape is always the name of the game in this novel. (Sam has a secret he is trying to escape from.) There’s barely a single female character in this novel for 200 pages. And then Rosa Saks arrives…
The comic book theme of Kavalier & Clay has put me off reading this for years. I remember a paperback copy was knocking about in my first flat in Florence and despite the difficulty of getting hold of novels in English I still never felt inclined to read it. Comic books have no more relevance to my life than darts or bingo. I’ve never been anywhere near a film which features a costumed hero in a mask and lurid tights. Therefore I was far from sure I would enjoy this novel.
Kavalier & Clay, like so many other novels, attempts to get at the quintessence of the American dream and it does a decent job, chronicling so many of the characteristics of American cultural and political life between 1939 and the 1950s. But the real triumph of this novel is its dramatization of intimate worlds, of friendship, of sexual love, of parenting, of private obsessions and yearnings, and of the creative process - the relationship between artist and inspiration, the process and the exuberance of artistic creation, is one of its most exciting achievements. We also see the relationship between artist and the corporate world, and between artist and censorship too.
The friendship between Joe and Sam is a joy to read from start to finish, one of the most moving accounts of synergistic liberating companionship I’ve ever read. Some of Joe’s actions are questionable but because Sammy always forgives him so do we. Sammy is a kind of moral touchstone in this novel. And, as his surname suggests, he’s also the novel’s Golem, the catalyst for all the novel’s magic. It’s also him who expresses our own scepticism about comic books as high art - though in the end Chabon makes a great case for the important cultural significance of the comic book.
This is one of those novels when you sense that half the trick of writing a rich compelling novel is for the author to feel a consuming love for his characters and get to the heart of them. Chabon clearly loves his characters and this love is highly contagious. If you haven’t already read it, give it a try. It’s heartwarming and exciting and magical and utterly engrossing.
Only one abnormally enormous ego could've mustered out something so monumental, so very beautiful & elegant as this sparkly-as-chrome novel. It's basically flawless--very concerned with having all sentences that make it up into wondrous, unique gems. Every sentence is constructed with care & CRAFT.
The novel begins by grabbing the reader by the lapels to show how the bonds between cousin geniuses who build an empire out of superhero comics unravel. It takes its time to get us there, so we are in for a cinematographic ride through the years that bookmarked WWII in the great land of opportunity: mainly NYC. There are collisions with history: a legacy left from Houdini is taken up by the ambitious young Josef Kavalier, Dali's life is saved by Kavalier, and Orson Welles inspires Clay to draw on his masterpiece "Citizen Kane" to change the very way storytelling is depicted in the comics. This is a petition, very headstrong and brilliant, to elevate the craft of comic books into a substantial art form. That the heroes of the tale resemble those that they draw is a guise to imbue the fantastic world with the ever-so real. Film equivalents: "The Aviator" (2005), "Citizen Kane."
In fact, it is the story of the baby-faced entrepreneur that K & C tries to emulate, & actually kinda surpasses it. It is about MANNY things, about history of course, but also about that pesky threesome that sometimes forms when great minds align. About the father-son relationship, the partnership between hero & sidekick, the building of something amazing, that lasts for future generations to enjoy or partake in. Is there any other emblem to tie all of this together than that monstrous tower a.k.a. Empire State Building on the book's cover????
I’m a fan of Michael Chabon even though he carries a man purse.
Joe Kavalier is a young artist who had also trained to be a magician and escape artist in Prague. When the Nazis invade in 1939, Joe is able to escape to America with the plan that he’ll find a way to get the rest of his family out. In New York, he meets his cousin Sam Clay. Sam is an artist of limited talent who has been doing drawings for the ads of a novelty toy company, but the recent boom of superhero comics thanks to the newly created Superman has inspired him to try and break into that budding industry.
When Sam sees Joe’s artistic talent, they form a partnership and Sam talks the owner of the novelty company into launching a comic line featuring masked men. Joe and Sam create a group of comic characters including The Escapist, a magician and escape artist who is also endowed with super strength by an ancient secret society to help free the oppressed. Sam’s story telling instincts and Joe’s art quickly make The Escapist one of the most popular comics on the market.
However, Joe’s inability to get his family out of Europe due to anti-Semitic German bureaucracy and US government red tape continually leaves him frustrated and angry. Falling in love only makes him feel guiltier for his happiness and success. Meanwhile, Sam buries himself in work to avoid admitting that he’s a homosexual until a relationship with a radio actor forces him to confront his nature.
Chabon’s a comic geek, and he really understands the medium at a DNA level. This is obviously his ode to the Golden Age of comics when the industry was born. My favorite part of the book is where Joe and Sam are trying to come up with a new hero, and their conversation about what will work and what won’t is a great deconstruction of what makes for a good superhero. The following weekend they spend with a group of artists cooking up several heroes to fill out an entire comic book made me feel the energy and creativity that seemed to be present in air of the New York comic scene in those days.
The book also highlights the flaws of funny books of the time, too. Chabon makes it clear that a lot of the stuff that came out was schlock thrown together cheaply and quickly, and the stories about creators getting ripped off by publishers are legion.
We also get into how comics were thought of back then. Despite their large sales, they were shunned and mocked by the general public and seen as lurid trash for children. Joe and Sam are proud of their creations, but they’re also embarrassed to be writing about men in tights. Joe often feels that he’s wasting his time with war looming and his family trapped in Europe, but it’s giving him the money he needs to try and get them out so he takes out his frustration by having The Escapist beating the Nazis in the pages of the comic book.
The first half of the book is the portion that I really love. There’s a point where Sam & Joe attend the premiere of Citizen Kane, and its clever story structure and inventive camera angles inspire them to push their own work into a more adult direction. (It’s also a nice nod to the way that comics eventually started breaking the old nine panel per page format and became more cinematic.) To me, that’s the high water mark of the book because for one brief shining moment, the two men see what a comic book could become and temporarily manage to push their own self-imposed limitations aside to create something new. Unfortunately, like any Golden Age, it doesn’t last
Joe can’t let go of his desire for the kind of justice that a character like The Escapist deals out regularly because he‘s looking for the wrong kind of satisfaction. Sam wants so badly to be ‘normal’ and respected that he ends up living a lie and trying to be anything but what he is: a gay writer of pulp fiction.
Chabon has crafted a great look at a bygone era and meshed it with a pretty good story about a couple of likeable characters so embroiled in their own private triumphs and tragedies that they don’t realize that they’re among the pioneers of a new art form even as they create it.
While being a fun and interesting story, K&C does not feature deep character development and was IMHO about 100 pages too long. That being said, I found it highly entertaining and even instructive about the origins of comics. The descriptions of New York in the 30s, 40s and 50s was nice and the comics Chabon invented to tell the story were very creative. There is a bit of sentimentality here, but not too much and it was interesting to read this book just after Roth's I Married a Communist as the commission at the end was inspired by the same inquisitorial period of the 50s. Overall, I did enjoy it but wonder if Joyce Carol Oates or Joy Williams fans felt ripped off but I have read neither Blonde nor The Quick and the Dead which were respectively their books that were Pulitzer runners up when Chabon won in 2001. Perhaps someone else has? How about Chabon’s other books?
Whenever I mentioned the name of this book to a friend, a huge grin broke out of their face. This was a universal reaction. As were the words: "I LOVE that book. That book is GREAT." Not just how good it was, or skilled writing (though those things are also very true), but just how in love with it they were. You can't fake that. And now I know why!
I read it in two short spurts, covering about three days each, and I was done. Once you pick it up, its hard to put it down for around another hundred pages. There are some sentences that are just so absorbing and beautiful, passages that are just built up so well that I found myself going back to read them over and over. Parts of it were just so exhilarating to read, I had to stop and just bask in how good it made me feel to read. (Similar to the feeling I got from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.)
The only complaints I had about it (which is why it gets four stars and not five) is that my attention wandered during Joe's travels in the middle. I thought that was a bit much and it didn't make sense to me except as a metaphor so heavy handed I will hit the author if that's what he meant. I also didn't like the way that so much time passed, and yet 12 years later everything could be tied up with a little shiny bow as "best for everyone," like so little had changed. I just didn't think Chabon gave enough credit to what twelve years does to people. He sort of dealt with it, but very quickly, and it felt like after hundreds of pages of careful development he was rushing to bring it to a close. Then again, that could be me just wanting more of the characters, who knows?
Still fantastic. If you have ever loved comic books, this book is necessary to your life. It's a love letter to escapism in general, but to the comic book industry and superheroes in general.
"The magician seemed to promise that something torn to bits might be mended without a seam, that what had vanished might reappear, that a scattered handful of doves or dust might be reunited by a word, that a paper rose consumed by fire could be made to bloom from a pile of ash. But everyone knew that it was only an illusion. The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost, that they might never have existed in the first place."
Joe Kavalier is an amateur magician living in Czechoslovakia during the rise of Hitler. His Jewish family saves enough money allowing Joe to make a daring escape to freedom and his American family. He leaves behind his loving parents, a grandfather, and a beloved younger brother; but they promise to soon follow and reunite with one another once again. After a harrowing journey, Joe eventually lands in Brooklyn where he is taken in by his aunt and his cousin, Sammy Klayman. Thus begins a new adventure into the world of comic books as the two pair up to realize a dream – that of producing their own comic book hero, The Escapist. The Escapist takes on the role of single-handedly challenging the Nazis in order to rid the world of this evil once and for all. Never once does Joe forget his own heart’s desire – to rescue his family from the terror that is seeping into Europe.
There is much that I liked about this book. The budding friendship between the two cousins, Joe and Sammy, is nothing short of heartwarming. The historical pieces are engaging and informative. I loved the adventurous bits – Joe’s escape from Prague, some nail-biting scenes involving small-scale terrorism, a formidable venture into the lonely and treacherous landscape of Antarctica, as well as Joe’s various magic performances and displays of escape. I genuinely cared what happened to each character in this novel. Even the world of comic books didn’t turn me off… at least not right away. I enjoyed learning about the creative process and this unique form of art. The world of comic book publishers, editors and marketing was interesting. Then, it became too much for me. I would start to lose interest as the narrative would jump from the real life story of Joe and Sammy to that of their comic book characters. I was never a big fan of comic books; as a child, only occasionally would I sit in front of the screen to see which villains Wonderwoman or Superman or even the Wonder Twins were busy fighting for our sake. When the Marvel movies appear on my television set on a fairly regular basis , I slightly cringe and remove myself from the room with book in hand. That is sort of how I felt for parts of this book... just get me out of this and into another book for a bit. But then, Chabon would thankfully switch gears and I was fully immersed once again. I was able to quickly savor the last quarter or so of this book and enjoyed the introduction of Tommy into the story. The ending was quite fitting, in my opinion.
To be honest, I have been putting off writing this review simply because I really don’t want to criticize the incredible feat that this author has accomplished with this book. I recognize his talent, his love for the comics and for his characters. The writing, when I was engaged, was superb. However, I felt I needed to express my personal hesitation with this book and explain why it took me so gosh darn long to get through it! Don’t write this one off – it’s definitely a worthy book. You will just need to decide what works for you and your personal reading taste before you commit yourself to this fairly lengthy read. I would most certainly like to try another Chabon novel (this was my first), and welcome any suggestions!
I hated this book. For me the characters were not only unlikeable but lifeless. The whole thing was contrived and pretentious and painful to read from start to finish. I am dumbfounded by people's enthusiasm for this book. Dumbfounded.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001.
Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City.
His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America - the comic book.
Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men.
With exhilarating style and grace, Michael Chabon tells an unforgettable story about American romance and possibility.
عنوان: سرگذشت شگفتانگیز کاوالیر و کلی (ماجراهای شگفت انگیز کاوالیر و کلی)؛ نویسنده: مایکل شیبون (چابون)؛ مترجم ماهرخ آخوند؛ تهران، نشر نون، سال1400؛ در 704ص؛ شابک9786227566314؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م
داستان جالبی بود اما چندان به دلم ننشت، باید این واژه ی جالب یا (اینترسان) را نیز گشود، رمان با الهام از جادوگران نگاشته شده، ولی ترفندهای کمی در رمان وجود دارد؛ از نظر ساختار یا صدا هیچگونه دستکاری پست مدرنیستی ندارد؛ داستان در سحرآمیزترین و جذابترین حالتش تنها قصه میگوید - توانایی سحرانگیز کتاب همگی در سرزندگی و گستردگی خیال انگیز داستان آن، و نیروی انسانی در حال حرکت دو شخصیت اصلیش، «یوزف کاوالیر» و پسر عموی آمریکاییش «سام کلی» است
تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 19/07/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
It started with a bang and was a smooth ride until one of character decides to abandon everything and jump on the WWII wagon. It went downhill for me from then on. It became a little too long and predictable. Writing is great and I enjoyed it while reading it but it didn't leave an impression on me.
I have started reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay with certain expectations - if not great, then at least considerable. I have seen Chabon's name pop up on this site pretty often, reminding me of the fact that I have not yet read anything by him - this seemed like an obvious choice. At 634 pages it stands proudly as the author's magnum opus, and proved to be a critical darling by winning the Pulitzer in 2001. When you can, aim for the greats!
So what's the big deal? The book has an engaging premise: it opens in Prague of 1939, where a Jewish teen named Josef Kavalier is fascinated by Harry Houdini and studying the art of escapology to prepare for the biggest trick of his life - flee the Nazi horror which slowly begins to surface in Czechoslovakia. After forming an ingenious plan and successfully carrying it out, Josef arrives in New York City to live with his cousin, Sammy Clay. Although things are awkward at first, the boys quickly hit it off when Sammy discovers Josef's artistic talent and lands him a job as an illustrator at Empire Novelty Company - Josef rebrands himself as "Joe" to sound more American. It's the Golden Age of Comic Books; after the enormous success of Superman the company wants to jump on the bandwagon, and is willing to let both boys prove themselves. The Kavalier & Clay duo creates a new character, The Escapist - an anti-fascist superhero who can perform amazing feats of escapology to fight crime, with Sammy writing the stories and Joe illustrating them. Although The Escapist achieves immense popularity, the boys lives are not free from trouble and worry - with Joe frantically trying to get his family out of Prague and Sammy struggling with the question of his own identity.
Chabon's love for the comic book is obvious: Joe's escape from Prague is a heroic attempt which could well find its place in a graphic novel - the theme of escapism is present throughout the book: Joe's literal escape from certain doom and later from his own demons, the character of the Escapist, escaping reality through reading, etc. Chabon's novel is a paean to comic books - set in their Golden Age, a period which has seen the rise of heroes such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America...Chabon's characters face the realities of publishing world at the time - they are mercilessly exploited by the publishers and shunned at by the reading public, as their work is seen as immature fun for children. The creation of The Escapist allows Chabon to have his character ponder what makes superheroes "tick", and their creative energy and joy of creation reflect the author's own enjoyment and love for the subject.
The bad thing is that it overshadows almost everything else. There are so many fascinating topics in this book which are barely glossed over and given the most cursory treatment. Josef is a Czech Jew - but you would never guess that if it wasn't explicitly stated. Although the novel opens in Prague during the war, it could be set anywhere in eastern/central Europe - it's only set in Prague because Chabon wants to employ the local legend of the Prague Golem and incorporate it into his work as a clever way for his character to flee the country. The Czechs are wonderful people with a specific and unique culture and a long and interesting history, and their mountainous country is gorgeous (I had the pleasure of visiting it last year so my memories are especially fresh). I have read Czech and Slovak fairytales and fables when I was a boy. There's so much more to the country and the people than the legend of the golem - unfortunately, in this novel an entire nation has been reduced to background decoration for the opening act and discarded afterwards. After Joe's arrival in New York City, nothing more is made of his Czechness and he doesn't even experience any struggle with adaptation to the new country, typical for new immigrants - although he was not happy about leaving Prague for "unimaginable Brooklyn" he adapts to the U.S. literally overnight, and is ready for enormous success the next day - making the character look flat and lifeless.
Last year I've read David Benioff's enormously entertaining book titled City of Thieves (reviewed here), set in Leningrad during the German occupation - the deadliest siege in history. Benioff's book has a great sense of place and is compulsively readable - he's a screenwriter by profession and he knows how to use tension and sustain pacing, and at the same time create memorable characters and an engaging narrative, holding true to an outlandish premise but not rendering the whole book flat. That's not the case here - Joe's escape is a small section at the beginning which ends almost immediately after it starts. Joe initially arrives in San Francisco from Japan - but the possibility of an adventure in imperial Japan (and Stalinist Russia before it - have to get to Japan somehow) is completely dropped, as if Chabon couldn't muster the energy to fully develop the possibility of his own creation.
Anyone seeking an insightful work of fiction concerning World War 2, the Holocaust and antisemitism will also likely be disappointed. These characters seem to live in an America of complete religious tolerance - somewhat surprising in mid 20th century. as I felt as if the whole background of war was employed because it's a big subject, which is likely to appeal to readers and critics alike (not to mention the Holocaust). It feels exploitative; I was born in a city destroyed during the war and in a country which it damaged beyond repair. My primary school is located on the street named after a member of the underground resistance, who was caught by the Gestapo and put through extremely brutal and torturous interrogation - just a few streets away from where I'm typing these words. He was liberated after a brave attack on the car which was transporting him to prison, but died from injuries inflicted upon him by the Gestapo. People put flowers and light candles under memory plaques, and the streets fill with them - schoolchildren regularly do that to commemorate those murdered by the German soldiers. Joe Kavalier seems to be made a Jew and escape the Holocaust only to have a semblance of personality - after all, how could one call a Holocaust survivor dull?
In 1943 Betty Smith wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which is also set in New York although a bit earlier - in the early 1910's. Smith's beautiful book did not win a Pulitzer - it did not win any awards - but remains a timeless classic and a timeless portrayal of the struggles faced by an immigrant family in the Brooklyn borough of Williamsburg. I doubt that any reader would be able to not care for Francie Nolan, the protagonist; Smith effortlessly paints a vivid and detailed picture of Brooklyn and its inhabitants with care and compassion as she herself grew up poor in Williamsburg, making Chabon's portrayal of New York look like a cheap imitation.
The relationship between Joe and Sammy resembles the traditional relationship between the Hero and the Sidekick, and since Batman will always be cooler than Robin Sammy gets pushed into the background, and even when Kavalier is not on the stage he always plays the main role. And then there is..... It seemed to me that these characters were not done justice; the ideas of these characters are great, not so much the characters themselves. There's too much melodrama, and not enough depth. It's especially evident in the fact that they're contrasted against the even more unremarkable background characters, who move in and out without greater significance.
It seems to me as if Michael Chabon wanted to have two worlds in this book: a real world and a comic book world, but didn't quite know how to mix them and achieve a compromise and resorted to an either-or: a real world (complete with footnotes) when it comes to comic books, the seriousness of being an artist and all the joys and frustrations that come with it, being trapped in a creative ghetto of a form looked down upon, but applied the comic-book simplified and generalized approach to almost everything else, concluding with a sudden and anti-climatic ending. It's almost as if the author's pen started running out of ink early into the project, and he had to dilute it with water - lots of water - to be able to continue to write: the resulting pages include sections which are sharp and clear and some which are almost transparently thin. The result if a short and readable would-be novel, which somehow became an overly long and often plodding book resembling an old circus performer, long out of practice: while it can still manage some entertaining stunts, in the end it loses balance and stumbles on its own legs, falls down and lands flat on the ground and doesn't really know what happened.
Rumor has it that Chabon originally wanted to call this "the Pretty Good, Amazing at the Beginning but Considerably Less Interesting as Our Heroes Devolve Into Cartoon Caricatures and the Reader's Suspension of Disbelief Vanishes Entirely (Not to Mention the Wonky Prose), So in Short, Overlong, At First Pretty Cool but Then Poorly Characterized, and Unevenly Written Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," but the publishing companies vetoed it, so "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" it is.
In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Chabon asks one of the oldest questions asked in stories, and gives us the oldest answer. But, you know, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that because, really, the oldest answer is the right one. What’s the question? It’s the one asked by ever since man started telling stories: What is a hero? And his answer is, “It’s not the guy who goes out there with fisty cuffs and guns blazing. It’s the guy who goes out there and comes back every night to feed his wife and kid. That’s the hero.”
He’s taken all the tropes of super hero comic books, but in the end it’s not the guy with the magic, the secret lair, the girl, and the gun that’s his hero. In the end, he’s just the side-kick. It’s the other guy. The one you didn’t notice, the one with the secret identity hiding his true self. He’s the hero. He’s the one who puts aside his own life to set free the people he cares most about. That’s what heroism is about.
I love this book. I love that it’s about comic books, and superheroes, and story-telling. But most of all, I love that it’s about love and what it takes to be a real hero.
I don't think I've ever read a 600 page novel which wouldn't have been a better 500 page novel. Initially I wasn't quite sure about this. In 1939 Josef Kavalier arrives in New York after escaping the Nazis but leaving behind his family in Prague. Almost immediately we're taken back to Prague and shown how Josef trained as an escape artist with a famous magician, we're shown something of his relationship with his family and especially his younger brother. And then we're shown the escape from Prague itself when he is concealed inside a coffin with Prague's golem. It's all very well done but it was an odd decision on Chabon's part to start the novel with a spoiler. We know Josef will succeed so there's no tension. We're then shown his blossoming relationship with his cousin Sam and their mutual love of comic books. Together they create a character called The Escapist and Josef deploys him as a means of fighting thinly disguised Nazis. They are soon contracted by a publisher and begin making money. Josef's driving ambition is to pay for his family's passage from Prague to New York.
The relationship between Josef and Sam is one of the best depictions of male bonding I've ever read. There's a barely a female in sight for a long period of this novel. Just as well then that when a lead female does arrive she's another brilliant character. This is Rosa Saks and the first time Josef sees her she is naked. By now it's becoming clear Sam is gay. As the possibility for Josef of freeing his family increases the tension cranks up.
This is a very long novel and there were parts I was less enamoured with - often the comic book stuff itself - but on the whole when it's good it's outrageously good. I read here complaints that it was included in a list of best feminist fiction but feminism is often about how men behave and between them Josef and Sam do an exemplary job under difficult circumstances of allowing Rosa to find and express her creative juices, so for me it's much better feminist novel than more crudely overt feminist novels like Sarah Moss' Ghost Wall for example.
"Absolutely, gosh ,wow" (cover quip) on his sentences? Yes, very yes. Chabon can flat out compose sentences. Think Dickens, Pynchon, Tolstoy. But that's it. You keep waiting for the sentences to compile some meaning but they never seem to achieve any depth. He uses the backdrop of the comic book heydays, WWII, and magic acts, his neither here nor there Jewish-ness, to stitch together an overly long book that basically explores the relationship between two male characters who are caricatures themselves. And, frankly, even those relationships--friendships and sexual identities-- I do not see develop. They are more like "Mr. In and Mr. Out" in Fitzgerald's whimsical short story. A Jungian analysis holds that all the people in your dreams are simply fractions of your own persona. Two sides of the same persona. The dance is in his head. A gifted writer, a fascinating mind, needs a deeper theme. This is not DeLillo. I found his brilliance frustrating, getting constantly lost in the wonderful sentences and not ever finding myself in the forest of the story. He is a gifted researcher as well, and shares everything he learns about a wide spectrum but again, all seems mere convenience for the flow of words that magically cascade, effusively blossom, out of each new idea, as if the primordial stew of vowels and consonants impulsively births new cranial cognitions that the author’s creative ether must spontaneously, irrepressibly deliver to his delighted and by now addicted, but too addled readers. I don’t get this Pulitzer, but then I find most Pulitzers stilted, safe, reliable good prosey. I hope Chabon finds a theme worthy of his words. He should re-read page 286 and make his own decision between art and money. I find in the postmodern, good writers wreak havoc among real lives in order to construct a profitable memoir. Real people ought not to be autopsied alive for the sake of an extended fiction.
Clay meets his cousin Kavalier on an October night in 1939, awakened by his mother with a rap on his head. Make room for your cousin. He has traveled many miles. Both are barely nineteen, when exuberance is matched only by the talk of dreams. Sammy Clay awakes to the reality of Sky City, his comic strip drawing of unreality, swarmed by evil forces of flying demonic baboons and other sinister forces, the added creation of one Josef Kavalier bent over Sammy's table and best pen in hand. ”Sorry, but don't worry. I am an an artist too.”, remarks Joe as he begins to tell Sammy of his escape from Prague and the closing Nazi regime in Europe, leaving his Jewish family behind.
My opening feels inadequate compared to the the richness of description that Chabon puts into this book, from its character personality, to flavor of writing, sorrow, and even humor. So many of the chapters would unexpectedly open as if it were a new book and original direction making me wonder the words, “where could this be going?”, only to make complete sense by its closing pages. These two cousins who become men together are probably the most well-drawn, and thus engaging that I've met since I can't remember when. You'd think that a book about artistry and success, or lack of, would seek to divide them by terms of greed and fame, but that could not be who they are. I suppose that gives something away, but I found the belief in human nature refreshing. It's a long book, but as I neared the end time suddenly felt short. I knew I would miss Kavalier & Clay for some time to come.
I really wanted to like this book. It was recommended by friends, it’s about comic books, it has that gold Pulitzer sticker on the cover. What could go wrong?
It started out great; it combined humor, pathos, adventure and a look into the creative process. Like a huge splash, the initial energy created eventually dissipated. The humor became forced, the situations that Chabon put his characters in brought on the head shaking and eye rolling that usually accompanies the transition from the real to the surreal and by two thirds of the way through this book it became a slog and I began to just not care about any of it and my thoughts turned to Skyrim or Fallout New Vegas.
I like historical fiction, so I did enjoy the name dropping and the ability Chabon has in re-creating the look and feel of the times, but it just wasn’t enough to push this book beyond three stars.
The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay is a great American novel about two cousins whose talents, fevered dreams and crazy obsessions make them legends during the Golden Era of comic books.
Magician-in-training Josef Kavalier escapes Czechoslovakia in 1939 and is taken in by his aunt and his scrappy cousin Sammy Klayman, who live in Brooklyn. Joe hopes his parents and younger brother Thomas will eventually join him, but as the Nazis gain power, the noose, of course, tightens on Europe’s Jews.
Sammy, meanwhile, has his own issues, including the bitter memory of his estranged dad – a former vaudevillian strong man – and his burgeoning sexuality.
Both boys find emotional and artistic escape through creating a comic book superhero called The Escapist, who comes to the rescue of people in need around the world. (One controversial cover shows him slugging Hitler.)
Those are just some of the themes and narrative strands of this big, bold, exuberant novel, which spans decades and continents and lasts some 650 pages. (Don’t worry: it’s a page-turner.)
The book’s not without its shortcomings. The third figure in the book’s triangle – a woman named Rosa Saks – isn't as carefully etched as the other two. And the occasional use of real-life figures (Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Eleanor Roosevelt) isn't as gracefully done as it is in, say, E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, the obvious comparison.
But Chabon’s prose, befitting his colourful subject and era, is entertaining and visceral. It simply soars. There’s also lots of information about the history of comic books. Chabon’s done his research and obviously loves the genre. And there are several memorable scenes.
This is a book whose world is so expansive and imaginatively realized that I can't give it anything but five great big gleaming stars.
I read this book a couple of years ago because it has been hyped up for years, here are a few of my observations:
- I found this in the Young Adult section of my Library, but I would not classify this as Young Adult at all. It makes me wonder how they determine that. - I would say that I am fifty-fifty on the hype. It was an interesting story, but not totally enthralling to me. At points it drug on a bit. But, definite points for being unique! - Overall assessment. Decent, but would I recommend it? Maybe leaning towards probably not. Since it is such a different type of story, I am not even sure what I could compare it to to try and make a recommendation.
Tour-de-Force, epic traditional fiction, a whirlwind of blah blah blah. :)
In reality, it really is an awesomely well-rounded character novel set very firmly in the early comics industry and it made the giddy fan-boy in me go all blubbery. :) It was very nice.
The second best part of the text was the absolutely deep drill down in the characters and the time and places, from before WWII, the social mixes and prejudices and pressures, the boom of the comics industry and how it affected the war, and especially Kavalier's own little crusade to get his Jewish family out of Germany's hands. It really affected the comics, as you may guess.
But later on, even after joining the war and building families, it's even better because of Rosa. :)
Clay was really a rather breakout character, being gay. We still have to place him in his time and place though. I really laughed loudly when he was asked in the senate committee about the reason why Batman had an underage kid prancing around in tights in his underground dungeon. Public Morals, indeed!
All told, I'm very satisfied with this novel. It has a little bit of something for everyone and best yet, it's supremely crafted and beautiful. :)
5★+ “‘The pins have voices,’ he reminded Josef at last. ‘The pick is a tiny telephone wire. The tips of your fingers have ears.’ Josef took a deep breath, slid the pick that was tipped with a small squiggle into the plug of the lock, and again applied the wrench.”
Josef Kavalier, son of highly-regarded doctors in Prague, is learning how to pick locks. I have put off reviewing this because I felt so bereft when I finished that I didn’t want to admit the story had ended. It feels like a family saga covering generations, but in fact, the action is mostly between 1939 and 1954, a mere 15 years. Of course, past family history is remembered, but only as context.
Josef is nineteen years old, living with his Jewish parents and adored younger brother in 1938 as the Nazis are moving in from Poland. His parents raise enough money to send him to his father’s sister in New York, but just before the border, the Nazis “question” his visa, preventing his departure. He can’t bear to disappoint his parents, who are counting on him, so he turns to his old teacher, Bernard Kornblum, who has been helping him learn the magic and card tricks he loves.
Lock-picking, escape, and illusion save him countless times in the book. The whole thing is magic to me, how he gets to New York, becomes best friends with his cousin Sammy Klayman, gets into the comic book business, mixes with the likes of Salvador Dali (saves his life), meets and woos Rosa, all as the war is getting worse in Europe.
America has stayed out of the war and Josef is frustrated not to get any real news, especially about Czechoslovakia. Letters from his family are increasingly censored, and they insist that they are doing well, behaving in a proper, civilised manner to the Germans.
“Josef felt a bloom of dread in his belly, and all at once he was certain that it was not going to matter one iota how his father and the others behaved. Orderly or chaotic, well inventoried and civil or jumbled and squabbling, the Jews of Prague were dust on the boots of the Germans, to be whisked off with an indiscriminate broom. Stoicism and an eye for detail would avail them nothing.”
He's determined to save money as fast as he can to get his family out, beginning with his little brother, Thomas. Meanwhile, Sammy has introduced Josef to comic books. Superman had been issued in 1938, and the boys dream big. One of my favourite chapters just dives into a surreal story about someone else that later reveals itself as their imagined superhero. It’s delightful! I always enjoyed comics, and these guys would have been fun to know.
They get so excited by their wild inspirations that they don’t think about much else.
“But in truth, Sammy and Joe scarcely took note of their surroundings. It was just the clearing in which they had come to pitch the tent of their imaginations.”
Josef Kavalier and Samuel Klayman become Joe and Sam, Kavalier and Clay. The third part of their trio is Rosa Saks, the most gorgeous character, uninhibited, colourful, and a talented artist working for ‘Life’ magazine. Vivid, flirtatious, she’s a bright counterpoint to their conservative, rather glum, upbringings.
“There was something unmistakably exultant about the mess that Rosa had made. Her bedroom-studio was at once the canvas, journal, museum, and midden of her life. She did not “decorate” it; she infused it.”
That pretty much describes her presence in the book. The three of them are artists, Sammy being the better writer, the other two doing the drawing. They are quick, imaginative, and churn out the stories for bosses who keep the purse strings pretty tight.
What Josef relishes is the chance to conquer the Nazis on paper, letting the ‘The Escapist’ overpower the enemy, “the Razi elites of Zothenia, Gothsylvania, Draconia, and other pseudonymous dark bastions of the Iron Chain.” Sammy writes, Josef draws, and their‘Escapist’, has gained a good audience. Josef’s feeling good.
“It was six o’clock on a Monday morning in October 1940. He had just won the Second World War, and he was feeling pretty good about it.”
Sammy’s grandmother, Bubbie, haunts the background, a constant reminder of the past. Born in 1846, she came to America at the age of seventy with her youngest child, but her mind hasn’t really made the trip.
“She was a large, boneless woman who draped herself like an old blanket over the chairs of the apartment, staring for hours with her gray eyes at ghosts, figments, recollections, and dust caught in oblique sunbeams, her arms streaked and pocked like relief maps of vast planets, her massive calves stuffed like forcemeat into lung-colored support hose.”
Her cooking and Sammy’s mother’s cooking are memorable. Sammy brings a friend home for his mother’s dinner.
“Dinner was a fur muff, a dozen clothespins, and some old dish towels boiled up with carrots. The fact that the meal was served with a bottle of prepared horseradish enabled Sammy to conclude that it was intended to pass for braised short ribs of beef—flanken. . . . ‘Did you save room for my babka?’ Bubbie said. . . . ‘Is babka dessert?’ ‘An eternal question among my people,’ Sammy said. ‘There are some who argue that it’s actually a kind of very small hassock.’
There are many stories within stories and some real people interspersed among the fictitious. Much as Chabon did with Moonglow, which many readers thought was a biography (nope*), he has made fiction so real that we want to know these people. We feel we DO know these people. The humour is delightful, some subtle, some must-read-it-to-someone funny.
The heartbreak is devastating. When America does go to war, life changes for them in unimaginable ways and in unexpected places. Suffice to say it’s wonderful, Chabon is terrific, and I’m pleased that the Pulitzer folks got this one right in my, admittedly humble, opinion!
I know nothing about them, but I see there are some more Chabon books about ‘The Escapist’.
*(I've seen many reviews of Moonglow that assume it is an autobiography. In my review of that most excellent book, I added some explanation I found and also a couple of links, if you're interested. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... )
“The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost, that they might never have existed in the first place.”
The historian narrator, however, ensures that the ephemeral details aren’t lost. Still, escape is never far from the surface of this narrative. Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay connects the early history of comic books to escape artists and Jewish mysticism. Even with the broad range of subjects explored, and the plethora of stories within stories, at its heart, the novel is a superb character study.
After his escape from Prague in 1939, Joe Kavalier joins his cousin, Sam Clay, in Brooklyn. Through their heated conversations upon his arrival, a mysterious golem inspires their comic book creation, the Escapist: “Every universe, our own included, begins in conversation. Every golem in the history of the world, from Rabbi Hanina's delectable goat to the river-clay Frankenstein of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, was summoned into existence through language, through murmuring, recital, and kabbalistic chitchat -- was, literally, talked into life.” Though it goes in different directions after their initial partnership ends, much of the book can be read through the lens of Joe’s escape and his first meeting with his cousin. Still what Chabon means for us to get from this expansive novel is often elusive. “His dreams had always been Houdiniesque: they were the dreams of a pupa struggling in its blind cocoon, mad for a taste of light and air.” Wonderful image!
There’s so much going on in The Amazing Adventures, wonderful writing and a superb character study. My only complaint would be the pacing of the novel that, in general, was a bit slower than I would have liked (especially in the middle). Overall, though, this was a great read! 4.25 stars
I didn’t like this book. I didn’t like it at all. This is one of those books I never felt like reading. The word adventures in its title being enough to put me off.
This time my gut feeling was right. This really was loathe at first sight. I started it on kindle (300 pages) and finished it on audio (Desperate times call for desperate measures). Boring as a funeral, no matter the way I read it. Well, to be fair, I can recall having had more fun in some funerals than I had while reading these “adventures”.
Things i couldn’t stand: •The fact that there’s no character development, at all. •The story was told in a very matter of fact kind of way. •Too many irrelevant underdeveloped characters. •Too many unnecessary descriptions: street names, business contracts, magic tricks, Batman and Robin, Superman, more business contracts, Salvador Dali and so on... •Whole chapters describing the “adventures” of the superheroes created by the “protagonists”.
Things I thought weren’t too bad: •The writing.
So yes, this was like torture to me, but I don’t think this is actually a bad book. It was only a very serious case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. This was definitely not the right book for me, but those guys from The Big Bang Theory are going to love it for sure.
I still give it 3 stars though. I didn’t like it but its author clearly loved it. It’s only fair.
So happy I finished it and am already starting to forget everything about it.
Richard Russo’s Empire Falls is the next one on the Pulitzer list and I have a good feeling about it (and love its title).
An amazingly entertaining novel whose majestic architecture, believable characters and supreme atmosphere make the book's flaws that more annoying. Still, an incredible achievement, and a must-read for everyone who enjoys novels that defy the boundaries of genres. Or comic books. Or great historical contextualizing. Just read the thing, ok?
This was so close to being my favorite book of all time but it just couldn't dethrone A Confederacy of Dunces. Before anyone gets confused, these two books are nothing alike so don't think I'm comparing them. Anyway, the story of Kavalier and Clay is one of family, loss, and self-discovery.
Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay are comic artists in New York City before, during, and after American involvement in World War 2.
The story of Kavalier feels more tied to reality. Throughout the book, he is just looking for something tangible to give his anger and frustrations an outlet. He feels guilt for being the only member of his family to escape Czechoslovakia and escape the Nazis. His success in America furthers that guilt because it should be something he shares with his family and can't even fight them as an American until Pearl Harbor.
His partner and cousin, Sam, on the other hand, supports Kavalier's fight but never feels the same burden as Joe who is not just trying to fight for and save the Jewish people, but specifically his family.
It's a whirlwind of emotions and well worth the read.
My first Michael Chabon novel turned out to be a very good, very entertaining and moving read. I confess that I cracked it open with some trepidation, as the reviews for this one are really all over the place, and I had no idea which side of the fence I'd fall on about it...
In the late 1930s, Josef Kavalier is smuggled out of Czechoslovakia by his prestidigitation teacher just before his entire family is rounded up and relocated to a Prague ghetto. Circuitously, he makes his way to Brooklyn, where his cousin Sam Klayman lives with his mother and grandmother. It seems at first that the two young men have nothing in common, but Sam quickly realizes his cousin is an amazing artist, and that his talent could lead to them making a great career with this new media, the comic book. The novel follows their career, but also Joe's (as he is now known) attempts to help his family, Sam's identity crisis, and the story of the woman who will play a huge part in both of their lives, the lovely Rosa Saks.
While it doesn't hurt to know a thing or two about the history of comic books to enjoy this novel, it is also by no means a requirement: Chabon distills his clear adoration for the media in such a way that makes the birth of the modern superhero interesting, informative and thought-provoking. He uses this story to explore topics like family and identity, but in surprisingly fresh ways. What is family when those you love are a world away, how are you supposed to define yourself when you are something you don't even have a word for, how many times can you escape before you realize that you keep running into yourself everywhere you go?
Chabon's prose is clean and fluid, but also quite clever: some readers clearly find him a little too clever, but I didn't feel that way. That's how someone writes when they are passionate about a topic and can't wait to share it with others. I did find the book a touch too long, but it kept taking me to very unexpected places and I never really felt it drag, so I am happy to round up my 4 and a half stars to a 5. A really great book that made me quite curious to read more from Michael Chabon!