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288 of 301 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far exceeded my expectations
"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" works on so many different levels. It has the thrills, action and pacing of a comic book, yet also has the beautiful language, fully developed, memorable characters, and moving, non-manipulative drama of the finest literary novel. It is rare to see excitement, sadness, history, and humor mix so seamlessly together...
Published on December 3, 2000 by The Gooch

versus
106 of 117 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not life-changing, but worth the read.
When I read this book, I didn't even know that it had won the Pulitzer Prize--there's no trace of that information anywhere on the library hardback that I read. So I was blissfully unaware that I was reading what was supposed to be a Literary Masterpiece, and I would have been surprised if I had known.
There's no doubt that Michael Chabon is a master of his craft;...
Published on July 7, 2002 by Ilana Teitelbaum


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288 of 301 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far exceeded my expectations, December 3, 2000
By 
The Gooch (Temecula, CA United States) - See all my reviews
"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" works on so many different levels. It has the thrills, action and pacing of a comic book, yet also has the beautiful language, fully developed, memorable characters, and moving, non-manipulative drama of the finest literary novel. It is rare to see excitement, sadness, history, and humor mix so seamlessly together. I hesitate to write too much about the plot, because this is the type of novel where if you learn too much about the fate of the characters ahead of time, it will ruin much of the fun in letting yourself get absorbed in the suspense of the novel. There are so many things done right in this book that it seems like a disservice to not try to mention as much as I can about its qualities. Chabon is able to include in this novel the history and development of the comic book, Jewish mysticism, mid-20th century American culture, the Holocaust, US involvement in WWII, Houdiniesque escape and magic, all without ever letting this researched information interfere with the flow of the story. It is also rare to read a novel where the setting is so vividly created for the reader. A large part of my enjoyment of the novel, aside from the story itself, was using Chabon's prose as a guide to transport me to New York during the middle portion of this century. This may be the one of the first enduring literary works of our new century.
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147 of 164 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Epic & Brilliant Novel!!, November 2, 2000
This is a stunning novel about the adventures of two boys who write comic books during what was known as the Golden Age of comic books in the 1930's. This book about Joe, Sammy, and Rosa and their lives spans continents, eras, and many years of love and much hardship. The details of their lives is written in such beautiful language it makes you feel you are living in this time period. I have never been so involved in what I was reading as I was in this book, all 636 pages of it. It's a long story but one you will think about long after you have finished it. The characters you will never forget. So I guess I am saying Michael Chabon is a brilliant writer, who can certainly capture the attention of his readers. He has a florid way of writing and I really enjoyed that.
I was never a great reader of comic books, but you don't have to be to enjoy this book. I could go on and on about the story, but you just have to read the book description for that. It's all there. I would highly recommend this wonderful book if you have the time to read it. You'll find yourself staying up late till you reach the last chapter. What a great movie this would make. I really enjoyed Michael Chabon's other three novels, but I think this is his best yet.
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106 of 117 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not life-changing, but worth the read., July 7, 2002
When I read this book, I didn't even know that it had won the Pulitzer Prize--there's no trace of that information anywhere on the library hardback that I read. So I was blissfully unaware that I was reading what was supposed to be a Literary Masterpiece, and I would have been surprised if I had known.
There's no doubt that Michael Chabon is a master of his craft; his writing is a mix of the matter-of-fact and flights of fantasy, and often reality is granted an additional glow of the magical. His characters are real from the start: Sammy, Joe, Ethel and Kornblum are not talking heads, but characters who are distinct and touching in their fallibility.
Probably the best aspect of this book is where it deals with art, and art and escapism are themes that are tightly woven throughout this story until they become inseparable. At first art is the means to manipulate one's personal reality, as Joe convinces himself that he is fighting the war against the Nazis by having his hero fight them in the comics; and later this idea is carried further, so that art is not only used to manipulate reality, but to escape it utterly; and this is viewed as the ultimate goal of the artist.
Another high point of the novel is its moments in which the blend of art and realism are so seamless that at first it is difficult to tell where reality ends and the art begins. These moments are consistent with the magical atmosphere that marks Kavalier and Clay's "Golden Age," as well as with the theme of art as a means of escape.
The theme of art and its relationship with escapism is the one theme that threads consistently throughout the novel. Otherwise, one might say that "Kavalier and Clay," for all its strong points, is lacking in that after the tight, virtuoso beginning, the story loses focus and eventually all sense of unity. The plot becomes somewhat convoluted in the manner of John Irving, as if Chabon is throwing oddities into the mix just to keep things interesting. Hence we get Antarctica, the oddball marriage, and the threatened jump from the Empire State Building, which feel as if they are taking place in a world apart from the rich world to which we were originally introduced as readers, which was in itself so compelling. The result is that one begins to wonder where the original story went, if this is the same book, and to wish that it had ended before the pure magic of the atmosphere became replaced with coincidence and contrived circumstance.
Another drawback to this book was Joe Kavalier himself, who was simply too much of a good thing, especially in contrast to Sammy Clay. Just when it seemed that there was nothing else that Joe could possibly be good at, something else came out to prove that assumption wrong. In comparison, Sammy comes across as a failure: his talent for writing is never vindicated in the way that Joe's talent for drawing is vindicated to the hilt from beginning to end; yet the original idea for the Escapist came from Sammy, so clearly he is not a wholly insignificant talent.
If Joe was meant to seem perfect and Sammy a failure, then this is not a drawback but a fact; but my sense of it was that somewhere, Sammy's story simply fell by the wayside to make way for Joe's. As a reader, I found Sammy a more interesting character precisely because nothing came easily to him and because he was so conflicted in every aspect of his life. Many times I found it strange that he was so unappreciated while Joe had center stage, yet this dynamic was never commented upon in the book, as if the author didn't notice it himself.
Without giving anything away, the ending was a climax of banality, and not a particularly realistic one at that. It is as if the author became tired and just wanted to get it over with--a common occurrence, but a bit hard to take after the epic scale of this novel had seemed to promise so much. While "Kavalier and Clay" is worth the read, it leaves lacunae to tease the reader, like a detailed painting that trails away into emptiness.
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111 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Wonder Boys, October 16, 2001
"A faster read than a Grisham book. More powerful than an Oprah pick. Able to win Pulitzer Prizes in a single bound edition. Look! Up on the bookshelf! It's pulp fiction! It's serious literature! It's `The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay'! Yes it's `The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay', written by a strange visitor from Pittsburgh who came to the literary world with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay', a book that can change the course of mighty literary trends, bend public discourse in its bare hands, and which, disguised as Michael Chabon's latest novel, a mild-mannered bestseller for a great metropolitan readership, fights a never-ending battle for Truth! Justice! and the American Way!"
Pretty cheesy, that. But good cheese, no? Actually, the above is just a thinly veiled attempt to usher you into the world of super-hero comic books that Michael Chabon has created for this book. It is a world of convenient coincidences, of nick-of-time rescues, of unbelievable happenstance, and hyper-romanticism. It's a world whose characters are drawn in two tones (black or white), where good and evil combat in epic struggles, and little boys pay ten cents an issue to read about it. It's an entirely made up world, embracing its own fictionality, but one that the reader can easily get lost in. Chabon has written a book that takes the conventions of the comic book and exploits them. If you encounter a situation here that tests the boundaries of reality, try reading it as if spread over six cheerily drawn panels. It'll make much more sense that way.
The reason for this technique, if I may be so bold as to articulate it, is quite simple: Escapism. Joe Kavalier at one point lists the reasons why he loves his comic books: "for their inferior color separation, their poorly trimmed paper stock, their ads for air rifles and dance courses and acne creams..." But most importantly, for this young man newly escaped from occupied Prague, for the way they allowed young boys to escape from reality and dream their dreams. It's a pretty moving message. Joe and his cousin Sammy Clay (nee Clayman) create a comic book superhero to exploit this theme, named appropriately enough "The Escapist". It's popularity ends up rivaling Superman and Batman. I'm not going to tell you what Sammy is escaping from, for that would ruin one of the book's best and most tastefully portrayed surprises.
However, all is not painted in comic book artificiality. In fact, much of the book's sub-text is quite poignant and real. I mean, the book's title, which looks very comic-esque, is actually quite ironic. The boys' adventures aren't really that amazing together (it's run-of-the-mill, everyday stuff, except for a huge joint success). Joe has some topsy-turvy times himself, and Sammy's are more internal and domestic than anything. Even their names are ironic. Joe is certainly not cavalier about the cause he finds himself obsessed with. Sammy's clay (his "fundamental nature or spirit") remains hidden for the majority of the book, only drawn out against his will. Chabon only uses the comic book template as an easy entry point into this world. After that, he creates some complex human situations. And the book is set in and around a very real New York City, during its golden era. Not only are the city's alleyways and seedy apartments and subways represented, but so are some of its most famous landmarks. It's no coincidence that the Empire State Building stands tall and proud on the cover of the book's first paperback edition. It plays a major role in many of the boys' "adventures". As does the recent World's Fair, in a minor but crucial way.
The knock here is that Chabon's prose is a little too purple, a little too flowery, with a vocabulary that may stymie the majority of his readers. Frankly, I've read prose infinitely more difficult. Chabon, by comparison, is actually quite an easy, straightforward read. And for a 600+ page book with little in the way of narrative thrust, it's quite a page-turner. He has a sly little sense of humour, littering the text with some very silly, sarcastic moments (e.g., a brainstorming session almost ends with Kavalier & Clay's super hero being called `The Mandrill', with his "multicolored wonder ass that he used to bedazzle opponents"). But for the most part the book has a very somber tone. Before you begin, though, do yourself a favour and read up on the legend of the Golem (and not just in the Tolkien sense of the world). It'll help you to better understand many of the book's themes.
Chabon has done a wonderful job mixing a lot of research on comic book history (and I mean a lot), with a fake comic book history (perfectly believable in this context), with a story about two young men trying to live the American Dream. Don't be afraid by the book's heft; it's an exciting read, filled with suspense and cliffhanger endings, just like a real comic would be.
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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chabon Draws A Brilliant & Moving Book, November 13, 2000
By 
Brett Benner (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
With Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon will finally get all the attention he so richly deserves. The book is a feast for the imagination, and spectacularly written.A young Jewish man, Joe Kavalier, uses his fascination and dedication to the art of magic as a means to escape from German occupied Prague.He arrives in New York City, and with his cousin Sam Clay invents The Escapist; a comic book super hero who fights villians heavily based on Hitler. This is America in the forties, when Superman had just become a hit, and young boys everywhere were eagerly waiting for the next issue to see what would happen to their caped crusader. What follows is their rise in the comic book industry, as well as battles with their own personal chains that lead them to their ultimate destinies.
Chabon's canvas merges fact with fiction, and the characters interact with Salvador Dali, Uta Hagen, Stan Lee, Orsen Wells, and the great Harry Houdini among others. That only makes his characters so much more real as you read it, it's easy to forget it's fiction. If you're looking for the type of book that creates a detailed world with artistry in the writing, and a moving collection of characters, this is the one.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding novel about WW2, comic books, and New York, January 28, 2001
By 
Richard Guion (San Ramon, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This is a wonderful book that I'll read again and again. Kavalier and Clay's adventures begin in New York 1939, the dawn of comic books and superheroes. The reader doesn't need any knowledge of comics to love this book--indeed, even Joe Kavalier has no knowledge of them when he arrives as a Jewish refugee and settles in with his American cousin, Sammy Clay. The pair become a success with their superhero character, The Escapist, modeled after Houdini and Kavalier himself--lucky enough to escape Nazi Europe, but struggling to bring his younger brother over to America. Chabon does a brilliant job of tying together the events in comic books to other political and cultural events in American life. Along a journey that spans the period from 1939 to the early 1950s, Joe Kavalier meets Salvador Dali and Orson Wells, and serves the war effort in Antarctica. It's a bittersweet journey, filled with love, loss, greedy comic book publishers, and the need for revenge. Samuel Clay's tale and journey is more introspective, as he struggles with his place in the world as a man. This has to be my favorite fiction book of 2000! I don't think you'll be disappointed in Kavalier & Clay.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Indeed, May 25, 2007
Michael Chabon's spectacular, Pulitzer Prize winning, "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" is unlike anything else you'll find on the bookshelves of your local bookstore (or Amazon, of course). It is a quirky, unique story with an enormously talented writer whose keen eye for description and characterization make what could have been a tired plot (the rise, fall, and possible reunion of a partnership between a pair of cousins who collaborate to build a comic book empire) dazzlingly fresh and new instead. The hallmark of a great writer is that they can make the old seem new again, and Chabon is truly gifted in this regard.

The titular duo whose amazing adventures the narrative chronicles are Josef Kavalier, a former magician's apprentice who escaped Europe and the Nazis to come to the U.S. but is haunted by the family he left behind, and Sammy Clay (nee Klayman), whose talent and fierce ambition set him and his cousin on a path to success in the then new field of comic books, but whose tortured sexuality keeps him from satisfaction as he must continue to live a lie. Together they create the Escapist, a masked superhero whose story embodies all of their hopes, fears and insecurities. Sammy subconsciously relates to the Escapist's dual identity and secret life - carefully hidden behind a public persona - while Joe uses the Escapist's fictional missions to Europe to fight the Nazis that are holding his family captive (the first half of the novel takes place before Pearl Harbor spurred U.S, involvement in the war, so Joe waged war on the Nazis in the pages of his comic in the hope that it would inspire the U.S. to get involved sooner). While these "Amazing Adventures" truly shine in the novel's first half, the fact that the last half is hampered by melodramatic twists (such as Joe's Antarctic revenge scenario, a leap from the Empire State Building, etc.) is imminently forgivable because of Chabon's tight control of the plot and how it impacts his characters.

Ostensibly, "Amazing Adventures" is about the friendship between Joe, Sammy, and Joe's girlfriend Rosa as they make comic book history, but there is so much more. We also get themes regarding family, love, and loss that are rendered all the more poignant thanks to the novel's WWII-era setting, and the fact that Joe and Sammy garner inspiration from their own personal hopes and disappointments says a great deal about the power of fiction and where it comes from. Chabon is a fiercely talented and thorough writer (the amount of research that must have gone in to his sumptuous period details is staggering), and reading this novel is pure, unadulterated bliss.

Grade: A
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42 of 50 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good main narrative, but too fragmented and unfocused, January 15, 2002
By 
A. Liebling (Long Island City, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Amazing Adventures is a big, sprawling story about two Jewish comic book artists living in 1940s New York City, cousins Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay. Joe is an apprentice magician and Houdini aficionado who uses his skills to escape from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and arrive in America. His cousin Sammy, a native Brooklynite, is a small kid with a gimpy leg and vast imagination.
Sammy quickly befriends Joe and shares with him his enthusiasm for comic books. With Sammy's ideas and Joe's natural artistic talent, they begin creating their own successful comics, including The Escapist, a superhero who "comes to the rescue of those who toil in the chains of tyranny and injustice" and represents Sammy's desire to be strong and Joe's hatred of Nazism.
Escapism is one of the main themes, and probably the only theme that holds together well in this book. Joe escapes from the Nazis and later tries to escape from his grief and responsibilities. Sammy escapes into marriage to hide his true desires, and his wife Rosa escapes into her work (inking romance comics) to forget the man she really loves and believes is lost (Joe). And comic books themselves represent an escape.
But the other themes disparately never link up. The plot twists, without any reason or closure, so it feels like nothing is happening. The book plugs along solidly in the first half, but then quickly falls apart before the reader feels any satisfaction. The teenage boys (to whom the book devotes 400 pages to) suddenly age by years every chapter. Suddenly, inexplicably, Joe is a WWII stationed in Antarctica; a story that begins out of nowhere and ends just as it gets interesting. We learn the fate of Sammy's lover (the development of their relationship of which took 100 pages) in one sentence. 12 years suddenly passes and we are introduced to Rosa and Sammy's (nay Joe's) 12-year old son. It seems Chabon has a lot of ideas, and rushes to start one before finishing another. Interesting events do take place, but because they aren't fully fleshed out they seem disconnected and pointless.
Another problem is Chabon's own superfluous style. Everything has to be described with long metaphors; sometimes the simplest declaration is drawn out to a page or two, making Amazing Adventures a very long and arduous read. That, coupled with his chunky, clunky storyline, makes this book, weighing in at 656 pages, extremely frustrating.
I can see how this book could become popular. It contains a well-researched, nostalgic look at old-school New York life, historical references, and a lot of emotion and romance. The main narrative - two boys creating a superhero to compensate for their physical and political desires - is very appealing. But after finally putting this book down, all I could think of was: "So?"
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but this one has some problems...., July 8, 2002
By 
Robert J. Churchill (San Jose, CA United States) - See all my reviews
One of the things that jumped out at me is that it must not have been a good year for fiction when this won the Pulitzer. That's not to say this is a bad read because it isn't but those who compare this to Dickens obviously haven't read Dickens in a long, long time.
The one thing that was a hallmark of Dickens was his incredible ability to paint a detailed picture in the most simplistic terms. This is far from what I experienced with K&C. In fact I was startled by the lack of brevity in the descriptive prose in some of the most benign situations.
My enjoyment was derived from the backdrop concerning the birth of the propaganda comic book during WWII. Those that held power over the work of Kavalier and Clay were actually some of the most interesting characters. Sometimes, far more than the main characters of this frequently plodding novel.
Overall I enjoyed this work but I have to admit that there were just some things about it that didn't add up. Maybe I'm being too particular but how was it that K&C, being painted up as geniuses, could not gain more control over their work instead of constantly backing down to their publisher's bluff? It certainly could not have been the fear of losing a paycheck as it appears that they lived like dogs. How was it that Joe joins the US Army and yet there was never a mention of him even gaining his US citizenship? Did we enlist Czech refugees off the street during WWII and did we give them intelligence positions? Sammy is a homosexual and yet there was really no conflict along these lines until he almost went to jail for it? And why would he marry Joe's sweetheart Rosa? With the social and personal dynamics so apparent, never was this really analyzed or examined.
Alot of these unexplained situations tumble out through the pages without thorough study and toward the end I realize that I really don't know that much about these characters and after awhile I began to care even less. To involve the reader in the characters, an author must either relate the character to the reader or make the reader feel what it would feel like to be in the character's shoes. I never really felt any of this throughout because Chabon never gave me a chance to.
Joe finds out his kid brother has just perished by the hands of a U-boat and we're not hosted to one minute of Joe's pain the moment he finds out about it. Instead, it's explained to us through other people's eyes thus insulating us from the impact of the scene entirely.
So why did I forge ahead? I guess I've always marveled (excuse the pun) over the history of the comic book and it's unlikely rise. However, I did find the success of The Escapist a little hard to swallow but I felt closer to him then the people creating him.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing indeed, May 22, 2001
By 
Timothy and Virginia Kennedy (Atlanta, Georgia United States) - See all my reviews
I am always wary when friends tell me about a book I "must read." All too often that book turns out to be very long and very underwhelming. (A Man in Full springs to mind) It's as if these friends, flush with having conquered a 600+ page epic, want someone with whom to share their triumph, so they do a sell job. Well, here I stand, flush with having finished a 600+ page epic and ready to do a sell job. But, please hear me out.
The Amazing Adventures... is a must read for all the right reasons. Chabon's command of the English language will leave you envious, his characters will engage you, his in-depth look at the comic book industry will fascinate you and the plot will weave artfully from pathos to humor without ever grinding to a halt.
Is this an important piece of fiction? I believe the Pulitzer committee has settled that debate. But more to the point, it's the greatest type of book, one that, even after 600+ pages, will make you sad to turn that final page.
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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (with bonus content): A Novel
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