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VINE VOICEon July 22, 2002
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.
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on September 19, 2000
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.
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on August 8, 2001
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.
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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.
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on July 18, 2001
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. ....
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on September 27, 2001
I have to admit I found myself for at least one half of this book wondering why it won the pulitzer prize. I was enoying the book but did not get that GOSH WOW feeling the Washington Post did. By the end of the book I was however, won over.
Micheal Chabon strengths are in his descriptions, he paints amazing pictures with his words. It can also be his downfall, he will spend a full page describing an emotion or object, only to spend 2 paragraphs on an action sequence. Granted action is not what this book is about, but I found myself thinking 'Thats it?'
I also did not find the story as a whole the most compelling. It was very good, but I expected a little more. The characters were good, but I lacked the level of interest in them I was hoping I'd find.
With the bad stuff out of the way, I'll mention where this book is amazing. Micheal's research into the history of comic book's and the surrounding time period is amazing. He is so convincing with his stories I found myself wondering if there ever was an Empire Comics. I am ashamed to say I even tried looking things up on Yahoo. The way he was able to manipulate me, I found fascinating.
You will certainly enjoy this book, I just expected a little more from the characters.
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on February 15, 2002
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.
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on December 9, 2001
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.
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on January 3, 2016
[No spoilers here.] Reading this isn't simply like reading standard fiction these days. It's biting into a slices of life that are far richer, at once sweet and bitter, a multi-layered cake of shared, cultural memory on the one hand and the strong medicine that questions our values as much today as then. The story is about magic and the writing itself is magical. It's the ability to transport us in place and time as not only witness but experience as if we are in the same room as the characters. With them we open whatever needs prying open and unlock whatever, Houdini style and beyond, needs to be unlocked.

Initially I thought I was going to be reading science fiction. In it's parallel to real people and events that accomplished the seemingly impossible, it's something that only the greatest fiction, with fantasy and science or not, gives us.
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on March 11, 2004
Intricate novel about two cousins, Josef Kavalier and Samuel Clayman, who corroborate on a comic book and find themselves at the peak of popularity in the years before WWII. Their character, "The Escapist," becomes iconic in the world of Superheros and the new but fast-growing comic book market. Enter Rosa Saks, who falls in love with Joe - and vice versa. But when the war starts, Joe, longing for his Jewish family and fearing the worst, enlists - and leaves Sam and Rosa to pick up the pieces left behind.
Called an epic, this novel has a lot in it. The story sometimes seemed to stray far from the main theme, to me. The characters were interesting, but the book as a whole didn't entirely hold my interest nor draw me to it. Well written, but I can't see what made this one win a Pulitzer.
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