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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay Paperback – July 2, 2001
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Like the comic books that animate and inspire it, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is both larger than life and of it too. Complete with golems and magic and miraculous escapes and evil nemeses and even hand-to-hand Antarctic battle, it pursues the most important questions of love and war, dreams and art, across pages brimming with longing and hope. Samuel Klayman--self-described little man, city boy, and Jew--first meets Josef Kavalier when his mother shoves him aside in his own bed, telling him to make room for their cousin, a refugee from Nazi-occupied Prague. It's the beginning, however unlikely, of a beautiful friendship. In short order, Sam's talent for pulp plotting meets Joe's faultless, academy-trained line, and a comic-book superhero is born. A sort of lantern-jawed equalizer clad in dark blue long underwear, the Escapist "roams the globe, performing amazing feats and coming to the aid of those who languish in tyranny's chains!" Before they know it, Kavalier and Clay (as Sam Klayman has come to be known) find themselves at the epicenter of comics' golden age.
But Joe Kavalier is driven by motives far more complex than your average hack. In fact, his first act as a comic-book artist is to deal Hitler a very literal blow. (The cover of the first issue shows the Escapist delivering "an immortal haymaker" onto the Führer's realistically bloody jaw.) In subsequent years, the Escapist and his superhero allies take on the evil Iron Chain and their leader Attila Haxoff--their battles drawn with an intensity that grows more disturbing as Joe's efforts to rescue his family fail. He's fighting their war with brush and ink, Joe thinks, and the idea sustains him long enough to meet the beautiful Rosa Saks, a surrealist artist and surprisingly retrograde muse. But when even that fiction fails him, Joe performs an escape of his own, leaving Rosa and Sammy to pick up the pieces in some increasingly wrong-headed ways.
More amazing adventures follow--but reader, why spoil the fun? Suffice to say, Michael Chabon writes novels like the Escapist busts locks. Previous books such as The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys have prose of equal shimmer and wit, and yet here he seems to have finally found a canvas big enough for his gifts. The whole enterprise seems animated by love: for his alternately deluded, damaged, and painfully sincere characters; for the quirks and curious innocence of tough-talking wartime New York; and, above all, for comics themselves, "the inspirations and lucubrations of five hundred aging boys dreaming as hard as they could." Far from negating such pleasures, the Holocaust's presence in the novel only makes them more pressing. Art, if not capable of actually fighting evil, can at least offer a gesture of defiance and hope--a way out, in other words, of a world gone completely mad. Comic-book critics, Joe notices, dwell on "the pernicious effect, on young minds, of satisfying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life." Indeed. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Virtuoso Chabon takes intense delight in the practice of his art, and never has his joy been more palpable than in this funny and profound tale of exile, love, and magic. In his last novel, The Wonder Boys (1995), Chabon explored the shadow side of literary aspirations. Here he revels in the crass yet inventive and comforting world of comic-book superheroes, those masked men with mysterious powers who were born in the wake of the Great Depression and who carried their fans through the horrors of war with the guarantee that good always triumphs over evil. In a luxuriant narrative that is jubilant and purposeful, graceful and complex, hilarious and enrapturing, Chabon chronicles the fantastic adventures of two Jewish cousins, one American, one Czech. It's 1939 and Brooklynite Sammy Klayman dreams of making it big in the nascent world of comic books. Joseph Kavalier has never seen a comic book, but he is an accomplished artist versed in the "autoliberation" techniques of his hero, Harry Houdini. He effects a great (and surreal) escape from the Nazis, arrives in New York, and joins forces with Sammy. They rapidly create the Escapist, the first of many superheroes emblematic of their temperaments and predicaments, and attain phenomenal success. But Joe, tormented by guilt and grief for his lost family, abruptly joins the navy, abandoning Sammy, their work, and his lover, the marvelous artist and free spirit Rosa, who, unbeknownst to him, is carrying his child. As Chabon--equally adept at atmosphere, action, dialogue, and cultural commentary--whips up wildly imaginative escapades punctuated by schtick that rivals the best of Jewish comedians, he plumbs the depths of the human heart and celebrates the healing properties of escapism and the "genuine magic of art" with exuberance and wisdom. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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)