282 of 295 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
103 of 113 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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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great American Novel.,
By A Customer
I'm no lover of comic books. My husband indulges this fancy far too much, to my mind, and I certainly didn't expect to enjoy this novel so profoundly. I didn't expect to fall absolutely and totally in love. Chabon has fulfilled the promise he exhibited in his previous novels and short stories. With this towering literary acheivement he proves once and for all that he is that miraculous thing, a great writer. In Joe Kavalier Chabon has created a romantic hero -- a superhero -- with grace and strength and charm galore, whose foibles make him all the more admirable and attractive. And Rosa -- I want to BE Rosa Saks. Buy this book. Read it twice. Make everyone you know do the same.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, but...,
I was enthralled from the beginning of the book to its end, and was entrenched in the plight of its characters. Chabon's prose is mercurial, to say the least. His narration is a muscular omniscient, time-encompassing one - one that intrepidly flashes forward or backward to illuminate on the current scene being described, often in a same sentence. Chabon's command over the language is flawless, but never clinical.
I've often heard people compare this novel to Delillo's "Underworld", but apart from the fact that both novels are about Americana in roughly same epochs, not much is similar. Whereas Delillo's book is a brawling beast, Chabon's story, in spite of its epic background and proportions, is an intimate one. The intimate nature of this story perfectly suits and plays to Chabon's gifts as a writer. He has a preternatural knack of describing an insight of a character or a scene with pitch-perfect sensitivity.
Despite the fact that I enjoyed the book very much, by the end of the book, and intermittenly throughout, I found myself irked by a number of things. First of all, compared to the Herculean world and situation that Chabon conjure up, the statement that he makes is a very small, miniscule one. He doesn't tackle too much in the way of themes. I'm not saying that every novel should aspire to be a theme-wrestling, metaphysics-busting behemoth. (God forbid.) But I was more than a little put off by how little Chabon risked in such a big book. He is a far-too talented writer to hang so little. Granted, he evokes a lost world and its characters, telling their stories with admirable depth. But all to what end? What remains? This is a very cinematic novel, and the images and residual emotions of it remain... but nothing much more profound.
I don't know if it's just a matter of a personal pet peeve, but some of Chabon's prose-mannerisms didn't sit well with me, either. He is a stylist of language, seemingly capable of writing about anything with his own flair. But in some passages, he rather sounds like a young writer trying to do an American version of Garcia Marquez. Especially when he describes a scene in the present, and flashes to an epiphanic moment in the future to show the present scene's ramifications. It's a narrative technique employed to a devastating effect in Garcia Marquez's "100 Years of Solitude." In fact, many descriptions in Chabon's book, especially ones describing surreal sequences, or quasi-absurdist moments seem like American echoes of Garcia Marquez's book. Even the mysterious magician mentor of Joe Kavalier, Bernard Kornblum, who flits in and out from the beginning and end of the tale is a dead ringer for the mysterious gypsy mentor of Buendias, Melchisedek (is this the right name? memory fails me) who flits in and out from the beginning and end of "100 Years..."
I'm not implying that Chabon imitated Garcia Marquez consciously. He's a far too talented writer for that, and as I've said, this may be just a personal gripe, a prejudice based on my own tastes.
But some curious mannerisms, a pseudo-fabulist-magic-realist prose, and a lack of profound themes make "Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" seem like a pretty movie with interesting characters that you forget about only too soon. Even against your own will.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Scattering of images,
By A Customer
I find it deeply discouraging when I finish a book and am glad that it is over. Although I enjoyed Chabon's writing style and his fantastic use of metaphors where I never thought metaphors could be used, in the end, I just didn't care what happened. Chabon's style, with its enormous build-ups and immediate and sudden conclusions left me wanting so much more than he was offering. It took me a good 40 pages to get used to Josef in Antarctica, and then once I did, he left. And just when we are about to get into the deeper caverns of Josef's mind, we leave him and are only given small bits of his time between Cuba and his move back to New York. The novel moves with some bizarre twists and turns, something I tend to seek out. However, it's so disjointed and incomplete, that in the end it just deflates. Chabon wrote some wonderful sentences and he is obviously a talented writer that will keep me coming back for more; but this one just didn't do it for me.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ....,
Awh man, what a book. What a book. If I wasn't trapped in this Brighton hotel - trapped here due to the torrential rain currently filling this seaside town from the bottom up - I would be out there, running around the streets like Kevin McCarthy at the end of Don Seigal's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", telling everybody about this book. Because awh man, what a book. I want to be like a book-reading John the Baptist about this book. I'll be John the Bookworm. Go read this book. It's a humdinger. It's a five star read.
I mean. If you just look at the facts of what you get - just the facts alone. You get a guy jumping from the Empire State Building, secured by a mad collection of stupidly knotted elastic bands. You get a guy - the same guy, funnily enough - stranded in the Antarctic, with a radio and a lunatic (a lunatic who uses the bodies of dead dogs to repair his aeroplane) for company. You get a guy (yeah yeah yeah - it's the same guy - Kavalier, okay? Joe Kavalier) smuggled out of war-torn Prague in the coffin of the Golem. That would be the Golem - creature of Jewish legend - dressed in a suit from Joe Kavalier's dad's collection of giant suits. Because Joe Kavalier's dad collects clothes worn by people who were in some way set apart from others (giants, midgets etc). At the other end of the spectrum, you get Salvador Dali, drowning in a fish tank. Stan Lee gossiping in some coffee shop. McCarthy-esque McCarthyite hearings berating the guys who draw comic strips. Orson Welles. You get magic. Sleight of hand. Card tricks. You get Tannen's old magic shop. All that, and you get the Escapist too.
Because that is why you're here, at the start. The Escapist. That is what draws you in. Two guys - Kavalier and Clay - drawing comic books, drawing the Escapist. Who is sort of like Superman. Only not. He is one of those old time heroes. From the days when heroes did not have to be flawed. Which sounds a little John Wayne, I know (you can hear the voice-over, right? "When heroes could be heroes . . ."). But it isn't. The Escapist sets out to fight the Second World War, sets out to knock Hitler into a cocked hat (from day one, the cover of the first issue has the Escapist belting Hitler a good one, sending him flying right out into the reader's lap). The Escapist is the first of what eventually becomes a stable of heroes (the Monitor, the Luna Moth, all those people).
Which in itself, would be enough. As far as I am concerned, that seems like enough. But no. There's more. Aside of the two young geniuses responsible for the Escapist - Kavalier and Clay - you get the family Kavalier had to fatally and guiltily leave behind in Prague. You get wild Rosa Saks and her father, Siggy. You get fat old Anapol, making money off of those whippersnappers responsible for the comic. You get a love story (Joe and Rosa). You get a sort of coming-of-age story (Sam Clay, his relationship with the actor playing the Escapist on a radio show, a guy called Bacon of all things). There is a kid called Tommy. There is a great period in the wilderness. There is a terrific - and by terrific, I mean of a great size, vast - rollercoaster heart thundering away in the midst of this novel (Chabon writes like an old time train driver, shovelling coal into the raging oven, propelling this amazing contraption along the tracks).
Like I said at the start. What a book. What a book. Awh man, what a book. ....
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An imperfect, but ultimately brilliant book,
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a book with flaws, but the construction of the story and the elegant intertwining of multiple narratives make up for the majority of them. The novel is divided into six sections and the first four are nothing short of brilliant. The tale opens with Josef Kavalier, a Jew, arriving from nazi Prague to stay with his cousin, Samuel Klayman (or has he calls himself, Sam Clay). The two begin their partnership of Kavalier & Clay as they form the comic book character The Escapist. The Escapist--who is a Houdini-type superhero with the power to break the bonds of people around the world-is the embodiment of everything Kavalier wishes he could be, everything he needs to be to save the family he left behind in Czechoslovakia. As the story progresses the characters of the comic book intertwine with their real-life counterparts, for better or worse. The writing itself is beautiful, although occasional sentences such as "the sky was as blue as the ribbon on a prize-winning lamb" tend to pull one out of the story in their forced attempts at poetic imagery (152). Regardless, the story progresses--with a sensational balance of reality and fantasy that keeps the lives of Sam and Joe from being too tangled in that of their comic-until the beginning of Part V. Here the story veers into new territory as Kavalier runs from the present, much to the detriment of the novel. After this point it never quite regains its momentum, and certain developing traits of Clay's seem forced (as though the author knows this is the only way out of the predicament he will later create for his characters in Part VI). Despite this, the novel is certainly worth reading. One doesn't need to know anything about comics, magic, Judaism, or any of the books countless topics to enjoy this incredible work. Michael Chabon weaves a tale with the incredible fantasy of superheroes and escape-artists that still manages to tackle the real-world issues of love, loss, homosexuality, spirituality, losing ones dreams, and parenthood. The scope is enormous and the author rises to the task wonderfully. The book could have been better, but it is certainly good enough to be worth reading.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very good - but not as good as the reviews,
Over 600 pages and I still managed to finish the book. I guess that says something in itself.
The story encompassed numerous sub-stories that were in themselves fascinating:
Comic Book Characters - Jews escaping from Nazi controlled Europe - World War 2 - The South Pole - Saving the Family - Homosexuality during oppressive times - Sons and Fathers - The Golom of Prague - New York City - Long Island Suburbs - Senate Sub-Committees. Wow, that's a lot of material.
However, after 500 pages I was still waiting for that "something" to happen that would make me cry (as one reviewer put it) or at least would pull the entire story together. Sorry, but after finishing the 600+ pages it still hadn't happened for me.
A very good book - yes. Did it need 600 pages - no. A Pulitzer Prize? I don't think so.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Guiltless escapism,
Whatever its literary merit, KAVALIER & CLAY is a fun read. The first review inside the cover says, "Starts out as one of the most pleasurable novels of the past few years. It ends as one of the most moving." Contrary to a few other reviewers, I did not find the adventures of the characters to be un-amazing, I did not find Michael Chabon's writing to be filled with too many adjectives or difficult words (look them up, if you don't know), and I don't think his story is ultimately empty. It is unfair, not to mention meaningless, to expect Chabon to write like Hemmingway, or to desire that this book be like some other book you previously enjoyed. It is remarkably original and quirky, and Chabon understands the world of comic books, and what they meant for kids. Furthermore, he understands what they meant for kids from 1939-1953. He understands the artistic ambitions of talented youth, their dreams and disillusionments, sacrifices and compromises. I can't speak for others, but I haven't had so much fun reading in a long time, and I must agree with the aforementioned review.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Long Hard Circuitous Journey,
I had to force myself to get through this book. The beginning captured me, the middle 300 pages nearly killed me. The characters were unsympathetic and I found the story line inconsistent and filled with scenes that did not fit nor add to the book. There is an entire segment where Kavalier is posted in Antarctica during WWII. Although I could see how it might fit, overall this segment was incongruous.
After pages and pages of angst and emotion, suddenly something major would occur - usually something somewhat strange. I think the author had a difficult time deciding whether he wanted to write fantasy or straight fiction. Mr. Chabon also had an annoying habit of writing circuitously. He would tell what had happened in about three sentences, then spend 35 pages re-telling it.
In the uncertainty between fiction and fantasy I got to the point where I was happy to see Kavalier and Klay head off into the sunset. The sunset they rode off into was as unnatural and unbelievable as most of the book. With the exception of a few flurries of brilliant writing and the opening few chapters, I did not find this book worth the effort of over 600 pages.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly adventurous!,
Like his superheroes, author Michael Chabon has pulled off an amazing feat of his own, challenging the dark forces of intolerance and elevating and empowering the little man in this terrific novel. Set in the late '30's and early '40's, the novel follows Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia, and his cousin Sam Clay, creators of superheroes and producers of comic books which attack the Nazis and inspire those who oppose them. As the reader learns about the comic book industry and the sociological conditions which made comics so popular, s/he also experiences the cousins' personal frustrations as they work to gain freedom for Joe's family, deal with industry "moneymen" who take advantage of them, and search for enduring love.
No brief summary of the action, however, can begin to convey the depth and scope of this imaginative and original novel. Chabon manages never to lose sight of the Nazi menace while putting it into completely new contexts, including magic, superheroes, Houdini-like escapes, golems, and comic book characters, and ranging from Prague to New York and Antarctica. It is a novel of huge scope--and it is hugely entertaining! One of the best novels of the year, it should certainly be a candidate for a major literary award.
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4.5* Superb! Let A Simile Be Like Your Umbrella,
If it were possible to write the Great American Novel, "escape" could easily be its theme. America was, in part, founded upon escape: from persecution, famine, and class, and, for those who came to America but were denied freedom, escape from slavery. Michael Chabon's sprawling novel, "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," explores the dimensions of escape: physical and psychological, literal and metaphorical, and the complex relationship between escaping from and escaping to.
The first 100 or so pages of the book are incredibly powerful. Josef Kavalier is a trained escape artist who uses his talents to leave Nazi-occupied Prague for America. The oppression and suffering are palpable, as are the humanity and suffering of the persecuted Jews. To fool the Nazis, Kavalier shares a trick casket with a golem, a clay figure of Jewish religious significance; both are symbols of the Jewish community's near-death and faith. Chabon is at his tragicomic strongest here, exquisitely recreating the atmosphere of the survival of faith against brutality. This section alone stands as a superb novella.
Once in New York City, Kavalier rooms with his cousin Samuel Clayman (a pun on the golem), whose own escapes from reality yield mixed results. The two young men create the eventually wildly successful comic "The Escapist," a costumed superhero who battles evil forces and rescues the helpless in an initially vicarious exercise for Kavalier. The book is again wondrous here, detailing the low-rent, fly-by-night "enterprises" of those A.J. Liebling once described as "The "Telephone Booth Indians" (Chabon cites Liebling in the book's acknowledgements, along with several other sources that show the scope of the author's research).
About midway through, the book begins to lose some of its focus and the force of its words. Chabon's wizardry with words begins (at times) to seem gratuitous, much like his introduction of various historical figures such as Al Smith, Salvadore Dali, Orson Welles, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Senator Estes Kefauver (I was glad to find that Chabon restrained himself from somehow including American icons Billie Holliday and Joe Dimaggio as well.) To be fair, though, I have a bias against this style; others will enjoy the inclusion of these characters as well as a glimpse into the mechanics of the 1939 World's Fair). In addition, the historical allusions and footnotes add to the book's verisimilitude.
Chabon's spiraling, cascading sentences sometimes work magic, but sometimes seem to ignore Agatha Christie's literary dictum to "kill your darlings." At worst, the prose seems self-indulgent and congratulatory, much like the showy magicians that Kavalier's Prague teacher so disdains. Chabon's voice is so distinctive, his sentences so dazzling, that at times he almost parodies himself, and one is tempted to imagine sentences with his style and diction ("effluvium," and "detritus" come immediately to mind. The unpredictable becomes predictable; the writing seems out-of-touch and wearily linear, like an overly long drum solo or a beloved but stale verbal heirloom.
The last thematic section portrays Kavalier's psychological escape, from his loved ones and from himself, as tragedy hits him. His much-criticized (among reviewers here) retreat to Antarctica is actually fairly interesting, especially if taken on a more metaphorical level, and it sets up the other theme of the book, where and how does one return after escaping. Joe Kavalier's largely unexplored 11-year absence is not as irritating when taken as a symbol of retreat after his traumatic WW11 experiences, and this last section's largesse (about reversing an escape from home to the psychological commitment journey towards belonging and reconciliation) is described with almost the same power and restraint that Chabon shows in the opening Prague scenes. (Later sections on Joe's Empire State Building escapade and the Senate hearing on comic books are somewhat superfluous.) That the characters don't develop much during this 11-year sleep is Chabon's on-target indictment of suburbia, the conformity of the 50's, and the habit-born comforts and gnawing disillusionment that equally inhabit the borders of approaching middle age. Only Joe's love interest, Rosa Saks, lacks sufficient depth here. I cannot imagine her earlier spirit so vulnerable to the effluvium of habit, a miasma pouring like ether from a culture too tired to question itself (as Chabon, though with greater skill, might put it. It must be fun to have Chabon's godlike creative productivity...so many structures and words from which to choose). Wouldn't Rosa have at least explored the new directions in arts and literature?
Because of these faults and annoyances, I dock the book a half-point, but this is a superb, imaginative book well deserving of its accolades and Pulitzer. One may like it even more if one is not familiar with his earlier works, because the literary fireworks will seem less familiar (as was my own experience with reading his beautiful, astonishingly good debut novel, "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh"). Very highly recommended!
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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (with bonus content): A Novel by Michael Chabon (Paperback - June 12, 2012)