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on April 22, 2017
Absolutely immersive reading experience. A pure delight! Very few books I read get 5 stars but this one stands out as the best one I've read in the last year.
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on April 7, 2017
One of my all-time favourites!
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on May 27, 2005
"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" is a work that's difficult to describe. The 600+ pages cover the years from 1937 until 1954 in the lives of Josef Kavalier and Sammy Clayman, two Jewish cousins and best friends. Kavalier flees Prague in 1937 under intriguing circumstances (that are too good to give away), and ends up with Sammy's family (Sammy's mother and both boys' grandmother) in New York City. They're poor, they're approximately the same age (17 at the beginning of the novel), and they both have dreams of bringing the rest of Josef's family to America before the anti-Semitism burbling in Central Europe does more harm to the family.
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. It involves marriage, children, mysterious disappearances, and cameos from the elite of the time--everyone from Orson Welles to Salvador Dali (who nearly drowns at a "surrealist party"....and he doesn't drown in water...or even liquid for that matter) shows up, along with a Jewish Golem, Eleanor Roosevelt, and eight enormous braided rubber bands. We travel to many locations, the most exotic I've seen in a terrestrial book, but I don't want to give them away, because the locales themselves are major twists of the plot.
Now, just because this is ostensibly about comic books, many of you will be turned off--don't be. That's like saying you're not interested in "Death of a Salesman" because you don't like...uh...sales. The book is about human experience--about love, death, fear, regret, longing...but the two major players (of many) happen to be a comic book writer and artist. Now, if you happen to BE a fan of comic books, you'll love the scenes where comic books are discussed--Chabon references the Greats of all time: Schuster and Siegel themselves, Bob Kane, Gil Kane, Gardner Fox, Milton Caniff, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee....and uses them sparingly (for non-fans), but some of you may recognize the creators of Li'l Orphan Annie, Superman, Batman, Flash, Hawkman, The Human Torch, Captain America, The Sub-Mariner...this truly WAS a Golden Age; and although Chabon is careful to point out that "Golden Ages always seem to be in the past," he also says this was indeed a golden time for these people. So recently out of the Depression, not yet subjected to the full horrors of World War II, the bulk of the book is suffused with a hope that transcends the material.
Now, let's just say you're not a fan of Super-Heroes, of Escape Artists, of New York City, of the 1940's, or of Jews. Why on earth are you still reading this review? And why should you pick up "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay?" This is quite honestly the BEST novel I've read in a long time, possibly years. There were moments that made my eyes well up with tears, and scenes that had me laughing out loud. Chabon is literate, and has a beautiful style. His vocabulary is enormous, and it was delightful to read a novel that had words in it that I had to actually look up--or gather meaning from context. It was such a wonderful, active, immersing experience to read this book.
I give it my absolute highest recommendation. It made me want to create something important. Something lasting. Something I can be proud of. And I already have the cutest baby ever made, but this made me want to get out there and LIVE. This is a joyous (even when heartbreaking) book that you should make a part of your library. Read it. Another quick recommendation: "The Losers Club: Complete Restored Edition" by Richard Perez -- a much shorter but lively, very entertaining book I enjoyed .
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on January 21, 2001
The first thing I had trouble with is how to title this review. Mr. Chabon's new book is too good for adjectives, and well, "amazing" is already in the title. So let it stand at "Joy" because this astonishingly beautiful and thoroughly novel came as close to producing that rare commodity in me as anything I've read in a very long time.
Let me confess, I read a lot. I read for entertainment, information, education, and just to pass time. I read on subways, in chairs and beds and buses, and just walking on the street. I read and write for a living as well. So, the point is, among other things, I've read a lot of novels. This is one of the five best books I've ever read. It is a book that, very early on, took on that rarest of bittersweet airs: the sad knowledge that one day, this book would come to an end, and that never again would I be able to experience the joy of reading it for the first time.
Chabon has shown his talent before. *The Mysteries of Pittsburg* and *Wonder Boys* were both fine novels. Everyone who has read him knows that this guy can write sentences. But more than that, he has always been able to draw a character with love, and to weave around that character the mysterious virtues of compassion and hope. He makes us love them as he clearly loves them. More than that, Mr. Chabon is a great story-maker. He never fails to surprise. His vision of the human condition is both substantial and loving. What I mean is, his fiction is not sugar-coated, but it does most definitely do what Auden recommends for any work of art: it "shows and affirming flame."
So I came to this book with expectations that I would be entertained and even moved. As soon as I found out about it, I bought it. But none of Chabon's fine books prepared me for this one. An abiding sorrow is already present in the first sentence -- you know that you are going to fall in love, you know that your heart will be broken, and you know that the experience will make you a better person. This book does all those things and more. It is, fundamentally, a *human* novel, which places it alongside the great novels in our language.
Many reviewers tell the story in their reviews. The Amazon editorial did enough of that, so I won't go on about that. I will say that heroism is this book's sustaining theme, and the faith and hope that the book's heroes not only inspire but repay, also rub off. Reading this book made me a better person. There is no higher praise.
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on May 23, 2013
Dear Mr Kavalier and Mr Clay

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. So many psychological implications to all to all these sensational adventures! My mind raced to connect the dots to all your other published works, just to try to guess their origins. And Mr. Clay, the smaller flashbacks about your time growing up in New York were equally thrilling, with the performing aspect you imputed into The Escapist being part of your DNA. The casual fan might attribute this to Mr. Kavalier and his stage magician training, but only diehards like myself can see where it really came from.

After the play is all set and your famous character is about to premiere, Mr. Chabon does the mighty yet again by gently moving us fans forward in the narratives in your impressive lives. All these myriad and uncanny details of those early fun adventures in that oh so young industry brings about the most fantastic tingles in my Geek senses. While the comics are undoubtedly thrilling, these true life, and sometimes two-fisted tales, of life before Pearl Harbour provides so much context for the unparalleled creativity you both exhibited.

The old and familiar adage that real life is stranger than fiction becomes even more apparent as time marches on in your lives. I was thoroughly caught off guard by all the later developments in your journeys. By the end of this suspenseful trip so many secrets and lies are revealed, some predating the start of your marvelous collaborations, that it is amazing this story is not labeled as fiction.

Much of the credit for the verisimilitude of your biography goes to Mr. Chabon. The author has done a wonderful job researching all these thousands of facts, getting everyone to open up so very much, and weaving it all together into a complete, detailed, and metaphor laded narrative. Mr. Chabon must be a real detective, comics piled up all the place, in order to get all this geek history right.

Some of my friends have argued with me, both online and off, that your tale is very similar, at the beginning at least, to the famous story of the creators of Superman. While I do see some parallels with Mr. Siegel and Mr. Shuster, anyone who gets past the first hundred pages or so can tell the difference. No slight to those mighty giants, both no longer with us unfortunately, but Kavalier and Clay are more a pure world parables of what might have been. Or does that explanation sound to fanboyishness?

With all that said, I still greatly enjoyed the crossover event in the late 1970’s between The Escapist and Superman. It was wonderful for you two to return and work on the comic with Siegel and Shuster, all to tie into the major motion pictures featuring these wonderful characters. And Paul Newman was such a fantastic Escapist! Having Tracy Bacon play Max Mayflower was also a stroke of genius and brought tears to this fan’s eyes.

But one of the main reasons for this long drooling (I admit it) letter was to ask a favour. Is it possible for me to send copies of Mr. Chabon’s book AND the Masterwork Archives edition of The Escapist for you both to sign? I know it is a lot to ask, but I am an even huger fan than ever before, all thanks to now knowing the true story of everything about The Escapist.

Many thanks to you both, Mr. Kavalier and Mr. Clay, for all your hard work in creating one the greatest characters of all time. And thank you for allowing Mr.Chabon to chronicle the entire smashing story.

Yours Sincerely,

Scoopriches

Author’s Note: This letter was delivered to me, the wrong Scoopriches. It came by Owl Mail, which popped up through a wormhole generated by a bean grown by a giant. It is obviously from a different dimension, possibly Earth-Prime, because on our Earth The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay by Michael Chabon is listed as fiction. But we all know, this entire tale happened to someone in somewhere at someplace, don’t we?
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on April 9, 2005
The story of The Escapist and his creators is good escapism. I picked up this novel because it won the Pulitzer Prize, one of the most reliable sources for good literature. I wasn't disappointed. Whether you are a comic book fan or not, this is a powerful story about an important part of history. Highly recommended.
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on July 17, 2002
When it comes to fiction, my tastes usually run to Sci-Fi, but my book club chose this book and I was amazingly surprised(pun intended)! Michael Chabon uses the real world of WWII and Comics
to bring his fictional characters to life. You feel what Josef feels as he escapes from Nazi occupied Prague and joins his cousin and partner Sammy in New York. You wish you were at the party with Harkoo and Salvadore Dali and that you could see the Empire Comics studio as the boys are weaving their magic.
The story is believeable and the setting is unforgetable.
This book is a must read!!
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on March 19, 2002
If you are a fan of wit, adventure, marvelous writing, wonderful storytelling, characters that jump off the page, charming prose with depth, then this novel is for you! I am an avid reader and this is one of the most readable, memorable and wonderful books I've ever read. Plus this book is F U N and Michael Chabon is a writer's writer. ANYONE WHO GIVES THIS BOOK LESS THAN FIVE STARS IS CERTIFIABLE! It was awarded the Pulitzer and with good reason.
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on November 29, 2008
This book was incredibly dense, rich and full of comic book lore goodness.
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.
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on January 17, 2009
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 angle.

I really enjoyed this book though I did skim over some of the longer detailed passages. Funnily enough I would then get into some dialogue and often went back to the detail to read it anyway.

Very enjoyable.
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