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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay Paperback – Unabridged, August 25, 2001
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"It's absolutely gosh-wow, super-colossal—smart, funny, and a continual pleasure to read."—Washington Post Book World
"Towering, swash-buckling thrill of a book . . . the themes are masterfully explored, leaving the book's sense of humor intact and characters so highly developed they could walk off the page."—Newsweek
"Well researched and deeply felt, this rich, expansive and hugely satisfying novel will delight a wide range of readers."—Publishers Weekly (starred + boxed)
"Elegant, lyrical writing meets gentle comedy."—San Francisco Chronicle
"Product of a sparkling intelligence, undeniable talent and consummate skill."—Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
"A lyrical [novel] that's exquisitely patterned...composed with detailed scenes, and spotted with some rapturous passages . . . A-."—Entertainment Weekly
"A page turner in the most expansive sense of the word: its gripping plot pushes readers forward...Chabon is a reader's writer; with sentences so cozy they'll wrap you up and kiss you goodnight."—Chicago Tribune
"This is a gladhearted novel, rich in story and character and invention, and a great escape."—Orlando Sentinel
"Starts out as one of the most pleasurable novels of the past few years. It ends as one of the most moving."—Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Sharon E. Smith
The story (which, as a fan of comics, reminds me of Superman creators Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel) is set in the late 30's, just as Superman is about to burst onto the world and begin the "Golden Age" of comics.
A Polish Jewish refugee, Josef Kavalier, arrives in New York to live with his cousin, Sammy Klayman. The two cousins hit it off due to their common interest in comics, escapology (which helped Joe escape the Nazis) and their fascination with the world famous Harry Houdini. The two cousins get a job at a novelty products company which is attempting to break into the comic book industry and they make it big with their character "The Escapist", only to be exploited and get minimal monetary reward.
Joe enlists in the Navy hoping to help his family escape Nazi occupied Europe, only to live behind his pregnant girlfriend. After a self imposed exile, Joe returns only to find his cousin and his former girlfriend married and raising his child. As each one of the characters struggles with their identity, they attempt to reunite as a family as well as get back on top of the comics world.
The book touches on many themes, such as the role Jewish writers and artists played in American pop culture (like it or not comics are American mythology). However, escapism is probably the most important theme, whether it is from Nazi occupied Europe or from one of the characters sexual identity or physical weakness.
As I said before, the book is fantastic. The characters are engaging, three dimensional and familiar. The story is tragic, funny and interesting. Mr. Chabon moves the story forward in a good pace, while concentrating on interesting elements instead of the mundane.
Into this world Chabon injects Sammy Clay and his cousin Joe Kavalier, one raised in New York, the other in Prague, two young men with both artistic and literary ability, who conceive of a new idea for a superhero, the Escapist, a man whom no locks, cuffs, or iron bars can hold. An idea at the right time and place, and leading to a fantastically successful publication, though Sammy and Joe only get to see a small part of that success. As time moves on and WWII intervenes, we watch these two men develop and change, each in their own way fighting for the American Dream.
Chabon's theme is inextricably intertwined with the dreams and actions of these two men, and the road they travel is not without a large number of bumps, upheavals, disappointments, obsessions, loves, hates, and ironies. These characters are sharply drawn, their reactions to world and local events makes good sense for the type of people they are. While Chabon's prose occasionally rises to the level of some purpleness (and might make some people reach for a dictionary), it does an excellent job of making this world come alive. Clearly Chabon did his homework in digging out the history of the comic book, and his injection of his own creation into this world fits so seamlessly that it is difficult to separate the real names and history from his fictional ones.
Perhaps the best thing about this book (for me, anyway), were the times when Chabon details some of the actual story lines for these comic books, as they capture the spirit and heart of what this new medium of comic books was all about.
This may not be the greatest book ever written, but it presents a solid case for the usefulness of `escape' that I don't believe I've seen elsewhere, makes you live and see that period of our history, peoples it with some very real, if somewhat unconventional, characters, while not avoiding the darker aspects of human nature and the sometimes horrendous actions of humans against humans. And in doing all this, it is easy to see why it took the Pulitzer Prize.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)