The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: A Novel Paperback – Aug 25 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 the Hardcover edition.
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 the Hardcover edition.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
IN LATER YEARS, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier's greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog-tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry Houdini. Read the first page
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Top Customer Reviews
Through happenstance, careful planning, and skill, the two boys end up creating a super hero comic book. Their hero, "The Escapist," fights crimes with the talents of an escape artist (a career that Joe once aspired to) and eventually superhuman strength. He wears a mask (of course), and a blue suit with a gold key emblem emblazoned on his chest. The book uses as a template the careers of many Golden Age comic book artists, but especially that of Siegel and Schuster, the creators of the greatest of all, Superman. Joe and Sammy work together, and The Escapist is catapulted to the top of the comics heap, originally conceived as a Nazi-fighter (before fighting Nazis was cool) and an outlet for Joe's rage and impotence, and an outlet for Sammy's creativity. They build up an entire comics company, Empire Comics, and their fights with editors, radio producers, and serial producers fuel the need for conflict in the book--as there aren't many between these two friends.
The novel follows them and their comic book creation through World War II, and into the 1950's...and it's not a smooth ride for anyone.Read more ›
I would like to start off by saying what an incredible honour it is, as a life long fan of The Escapist, to write to both of my childhood heroes. My excitement is only outmatched by my recent completion of that fantastic autobiography, and winner of the coveted Pulitzer Prize, all about your lives and creative history. It is truly a wonderful book of pulse pounding thrills and incredible human drama, with tons of behind the scene craziness.
But darn it all, I still wonder how The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay, written and researched by the fantastic Mr. Michael Chabon ever came out. And I am not just talking about its over 600 hefty pages of glory, or the occasional informative footnote, but the amount of information, both private and public, that you both reveal is astonishing.
I gobbled this book down, all because it told the complete story of how you, Mr Joseph Kavalier and My Sam Clay, created the greatest comic book character of them all, The Escapist. From that first fateful meeting, late one night in 1930’s New York, to your walk the next day that gave the world your greatest gift, almost everything is chronicled.
In fact the massive detail put into virtually all aspects of how The Escapist, and almost all of your other wonderful creations, came about is fantastic. Even the parts about the ones you helped make are amazing. I knew your fingerprints were on those characters as well, just like the legends and lore had suggested!
And the astonishing, prolonged, flashback telling the often hinted about tale of how Mr. Kavalier escaped the prosecution of his people in Europe, and the long and winding road that brought you to your cousins, Mr Clay’s doorstep.Read more ›
The detail and research that went into this book is staggering, the birth of the characters was compelling (I would love to read both the Escapist and the Luna Moth stories) and I was transported back to the golden age of comics witnessing the breakthroughs and devices that would change the medium forever from pulpy hokey hero comics to the complex and exhilarating graphic novels that I cheerfully bankrupt myself on to this day.
The character of Josef Kavalier was given exceptional depth, following his escape from Prague to his cousin's bed in New York City with enough poignant detail that his struggle against the happiness in his new country and the impotent rage at himself and the war never feels forced.
Sammy's portrayal, in comparison, is shallower; paralleling the conventional plots he spins as the idea man up until the end of the book when his own struggles and escape come out.
The stand out moments for me were the scene atop the empire state building between Sammy and Bacon and the moment where Josef sacrifices his dog to a doomed fool's errand that leaves him stranded in the South Pole, shot and hooked on morphine. I still can't believe they killed the dog.
Most recent customer reviews
This is one of my all-time favourite books. I was thrilled by the action, charmed by the beauty of Chabon's language and touched by the experiences of his characters. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Heart L.
Superman has a side kick and his name is Clay.
Chabon spins an epic tale of adventure and love. Read more
One of my all-time favourites. Glamourous, magical and with incredibly vivid characters. This is a book that I keep coming back to.Published 20 months ago by elizabeth jefferson
Pulitzer prize winner,Very good read, quite a page turner obviously. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves reading.Published 22 months ago by Will
Love it completely. Chabon is my favorite author and this book is his absolute masterpiece. I've read everything he's written.Published on June 8 2013 by Cory Beatty
I read this book in high school after taking it out of my library. I never really had the chance to buy it until now. Read morePublished on Feb. 14 2013 by abaabaaa
Kavalier & Clay depicts what it was like to live in occupied Poland during the war. Joe Kavalier is followed from his youth in Poland to his early 20's and 30's in New York. Read morePublished on Nov. 25 2010 by Jennifer
Just a short note to add to so many other reviews.
I used to collect comics as I kid but I actually enjoyed the characters more in this story than the comic book... Read more