Wednesday, July 16, 2008
weekly book review: the amazing adventures of kavalier and clay
Much like Catch-22, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Fortress of Solitude, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay has long been on my list of "books I'm pretty sure I'll really like, but daaaamn it's long so maybe later."  But after listening to two of my sophomore boys gush over it last spring, I decided that if they can find time for Michael Chabon's materpiece, then so can I. 

And so I did. 

And I am so, so glad.

I realize I'm one of the last people on the planet to have read this Pulitzer Prize winner, but in case there's someone else out there who, like me, felt daunted by the epic size of this tome, please first allow me a short(ish) summary.  

Hailing from Prague and educated in both the fine arts and Houdini-like escapism, a young Josef Kavalier makes his most daring escape when he manages to trick the Nazis and smuggle himself into his Aunt Klayman's home in Brooklyn, New York.  Sam Klayman, a writer, wannabe artist and comic book enthusiast, discovers an instant ally in his refugee cousin, and the two of them immediately begin to collaborate on what will eventually be one of the most popular comic book heroes to ever grace the glossy pages: The Escapist.  Borrowing heavily from Joe's personal experiences, The Escapist battles Hitler and liberates the imprisoned and oppressed.  On the back of their superhero, Kavalier and Clay rise through the comic book industry, earning fame and relative fortune, but also discovering that they are each imprisoned by their own separate chains - chains which they will struggle most of their adult lives to escape from.

Although it might sound like one would have to be a comic book enthusiast to enjoy this book, that is hardly the case.  Though long, "Kavalier and Clay" is a breeze to read, and although about superheroes, it has amazing depth.   Chabon's book covers a plethora of themes and motifs - the most prominent being escapism - but also including the devastating effects of war on families and individuals, embracing one's sexuality, the importance of staying true to oneself, personal responsibility, revenge, guilt and love.  Additionally, golems become an intriguing symbol in the novel, as one earns Joe his literal freedom while The Escapist later becomes another sort of golem, one that will hopefully be lucrative enough to earn the freedom of the family he left behind.  

Clearly there's a lot going on here, but that's the beauty of this novel - it's epic while remaining highly readable.  The characters are so well developed that they feel as if they could leap off the page, and Chabon's writing is positively beautiful.  Basically, I fell head-over-heels in love with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  It deserved every accolade it was given, and has earned itself a spot as one of my all-time favorite books.

Michael Chabon
2000, 636 pages 

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3 Comments:

Blogger Steve said...

Due to your review and its emphasis on K&C's awesomeness and readability (and due to my still clinging to Paul's copy a full two years after I first asked to borrow it), I'll be taking this bad boy with me to Florida.

Assuming World War One ever ends.

Blogger Nathan said...

Did you know that there is a sequel to World War One? I hear it's crazed. But take an intermission from war and read K&C or a Calvin & Hobbes collection. It'll do the heart good.

Blogger paul said...

It's the best American novel of the last 10 years. Seriously. If I knew you, an avid reader, hadn't read it yet, I would have thought just a tiny bit less of you all these years. Like I do of Steve. At least until Florida and the armistice ;)

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