The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. With exhilarating style and grace, Michael Chabon tells an unforgettable story about American romance and possibility. (via Goodreads)
I bought my copy of Kavalier & Clay in 2010-ish soon after reading Chabon’s excellent Sherlock Holmes tale The Final Solution. I remembered Kavalier & Clay being critically lauded, even though I don’t put a lot of stock in such things, but I didn’t really know what it was about. I had a notion that it involved the golden age of comics but was surprised when a recent friend told me that one of the main characters has some magic/escapist training. When I bought the book my interest in magic was at a low, but it seems that even when I read book summaries, I forget them before reading the book.
I like this book a lot. It may be that I’m not the best objective judge of Kavalier & Clay because there are so many individual parts that I was going to like.
- Comics. I’m not a huge comics reader, but I find the history of comic books to be fascinating. Checking back, I read David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague two months before The Final Solution. It’s no wonder I then picked up Kavalier & Clay.
- The Golem of Prague. Golems are one of my favorite folklore beings. I’m going to guess it’s because of the juxtaposition of religion with magic. That isn’t the sort of thing that exists in the version of Christianity that I grew up in. There is also a level of ambiguity to the basic golem story. The golem is a neutral being, a tool. The Golem of Prague has more of a cameo in Kavalier & Clay and I need to think a little more on its reappearance at the end of the novel.
- Escape-ology. I loved that Joe Kavalier had this skill set, and had reason for it, but it wasn’t his career. His life took a different turn (multiple turns), but there was still use for lock picking and being able to deal with close quarters. Chabon does a great job returning to imagery again and again. If Kavalier & Clay were made into a movie, it could be a lot of fun for a cinematographer.
This is also a WWII story, but from the American side. It’s devastating to Joe to not be able to help is family. In domino effect, Joe’s reactions affect everyone around him. How many of these stories played out during WWII that haven’t been told?
One thing that I disliked were the tragic love story parts. I know that they work for the story. I know that Chabon isn’t just torturing his characters. I know that bliss is the opposite of drama. But, man, I hate it when you know that happiness is being set up for tragedy.
Despite my pet peeve, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a great book. After 600+ pages, it ended too soon.
Publisher: August 25th 2001
Publication date: Picador USA
Genre: Literary, but genre
Finally started reading this book due to the Estella Project, but didn’t finish it in time.