Chabon s love for the comic book is obvious Joe s escape from Prague is a heroic attempt which could well find its place in a graphic novel the theme of escapism is present throughout the book Joe s literal escape from certain doom and later from his own demons, the character of the Escapist, escaping reality through reading, etc Chabon s novel is a paean to comic books set in their Golden Age, a period which has seen the rise of heroes such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain AmericaChabon s characters face the realities of publishing world at the time they are mercilessly exploited by the publishers and shunned at by the reading public, as their work is seen as immature fun for children The creation of The Escapist allows Chabon to have his character ponder what makes superheroes tick , and their creative energy and joy of creation reflect the author s own enjoyment and love for the subject.
The bad thing is that it overshadows almost everything else There are so many fascinating topics in this book which are barely glossed over and given the most cursory treatment Josef is a Czech Jew but you would never guess that if it wasn t explicitly stated Although the novel opens in Prague during the war, it could be set anywhere in eastern central Europe it s only set in Prague because Chabon wants to employ the local legend of the Prague Golem and incorporate it into his work as a clever way for his character to flee the country The Czechs are wonderful people with a specific and unique culture and a long and interesting history, and their mountainous country is gorgeous I had the pleasure of visiting it last year so my memories are especially fresh I have read Czech and Slovak fairytales and fables when I was a boy There s so much to the country and the people than the legend of the golem unfortunately, in this novel an entire nation has been reduced to background decoration for the opening act and discarded afterwards After Joe s arrival in New York City, nothing is made of his Czechness and he doesn t even experience any struggle with adaptation to the new country, typical for new immigrants although he was not happy about leaving Prague for unimaginable Brooklyn he adapts to the U.
S literally overnight, and is ready for enormous success the next day making the character look flat and lifeless.
Last year I ve read David Benioff s enormously entertaining book titled City of Thieves reviewed here , set in Leningrad during the German occupation the deadliest siege in history Benioff s book has a great sense of place and is compulsively readable he s a screenwriter by profession and he knows how to use tension and sustain pacing, and at the same time create memorable characters and an engaging narrative, holding true to an outlandish premise but not rendering the whole book flat That s not the case here Joe s escape is a small section at the beginning which ends almost immediately after it starts Joe initially arrives in San Francisco from Japan but the possibility of an adventure in imperial Japan and Stalinist Russia before it have to get to Japan somehow is completely dropped, as if Chabon couldn t muster the energy to fully develop the possibility of his own creation.
Anyone seeking an insightful work of fiction concerning World War 2, the Holocaust and antisemitism will also likely be disappointed These characters seem to live in an America of complete religious tolerance somewhat surprising in mid 20th century as I felt as if the whole background of war was employed because it s a big subject, which is likely to appeal to readers and critics alike not to mention the Holocaust It feels exploitative I was born in a city destroyed during the war and in a country which it damaged beyond repair My primary school is located on the street named after a member of the underground resistance, who was caught by the Gestapo and put through extremely brutal and torturous interrogation just a few streets away from where I m typing these words He was liberated after a brave attack on the car which was transporting him to prison, but died from injuries inflicted upon him by the Gestapo People put flowers and light candles under memory plaques, and the streets fill with them schoolchildren regularly do that to commemorate those murdered by the German soldiers Joe Kavalier seems to be made a Jew and escape the Holocaust only to have a semblance of personality after all, how could one call a Holocaust survivor dull In 1943 Betty Smith wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which is also set in New York although a bit earlier in the early 1910 s Smith s beautiful book did not win a Pulitzer it did not win any awards but remains a timeless classic and a timeless portrayal of the struggles faced by an immigrant family in the Brooklyn borough of Williamsburg I doubt that any reader would be able to not care for Francie Nolan, the protagonist Smith effortlessly paints a vivid and detailed picture of Brooklyn and its inhabitants with care and compassion as she herself grew up poor in Williamsburg, making Chabon s portrayal of New York look like a cheap imitation.
The relationship between Joe and Sammy resembles the traditional relationship between the Hero and the Sidekick, and since Batman will always be cooler than Robin Sammy gets pushed into the background, and even when Kavalier is not on the stage he always plays the main role And then there is view spoiler the fact that Sammy is gay the struggle with his sexuality is so insignificant that it s barely noticeable, and comes out get it ha ha as tacked on as yet another big subject to cross of the list New York Check Jewish characters Check World War 2 Check The Holocaust Check What did we forgot Aaaah, a gay character Check hide spoiler Only an enormous ego could ve mustered out something so monumental, so very beautiful elegant as this sparkly as chrome novel It s basically flawless very concerned with having all sentences that make it up into wondrous, unique gems Every sentence is constructed with care CRAFT.
The novel begins by grabbing the reader by the lapels to show how the bonds between cousin geniuses who build an empire out of superhero comics unravel It takes its time to get us there, so we are in for a cinematographic ride through the years that bookmarked WWII in the great land of opportunity mainly NYC There are collisions with history a legacy left from Houdini is taken up by the ambitious young Josef Kavalier, Dali s life is saved by Kavalier, and Orson Welles inspires Clay to draw on his masterpiece Citizen Kane to change the very way storytelling is depicted in the comics This is a petition, very headstrong and brilliant, to elevate the craft of comic books into a substantial art form That the heroes of the tale resemble those that they draw is a guise to imbue the fantastic world with the ever so real Film equivalents The Aviator 2005 , Citizen Kane In fact, it is the story of the baby faced entrepreneur that K C tries to emulate, actually kinda surpasses it It is about MANNY things, about history of course, but also about that pesky threesome that sometimes forms when great minds align About the father son relationship, the partnership between hero sidekick, the building of something amazing, that lasts for future generations to enjoy or partake in Is there any other emblem to tie all of this together than that monstrous tower a.
a Empire State Building on the book s cover 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 Aaron and I are starting a club for people who hated this boring, boring book Anyone want to join While being a fun and interesting story, KC does not feature deep character development and was IMHO about 100 pages too long That being said, I found it highly entertaining and even instructive about the origins of comics The descriptions of New York in the 30s, 40s and 50s was nice and the comics Chabon invented to tell the story were very creative There is a bit of sentimentality here, but not too much and it was interesting to read this book just after Roth s I Married a Communist as the commission at the end was inspired by the same inquisitorial period of the 50s Overall, I did enjoy it but wonder if Joyce Carol Oates or Joy Williams fans felt ripped off but I have read neither Blonde nor The Quick and the Dead which were respectively their books that were Pulitzer runners up when Chabon won in 2001 Perhaps someone else has How about Chabon s other books I m a fan of Michael Chabon even though he carries a man purse.
Joe Kavalier is a young artist who had also trained to be a magician and escape artist in Prague When the Nazis invade in 1939, Joe is able to escape to America with the plan that he ll find a way to get the rest of his family out In New York, he meets his cousin Sam Clay Sam is an artist of limited talent who has been doing drawings for the ads of a novelty toy company, but the recent boom of superhero comics thanks to the newly created Superman has inspired him to try and break into that budding industry.
When Sam sees Joe s artistic talent, they form a partnership and Sam talks the owner of the novelty company into launching a comic line featuring masked men Joe and Sam create a group of comic characters including The Escapist, a magician and escape artist who is also endowed with super strength by an ancient secret society to help free the oppressed Sam s story telling instincts and Joe s art quickly make The Escapist one of the most popular comics on the market.
However, Joe s inability to get his family out of Europe due to anti Semitic German bureaucracy and US government red tape continually leaves him frustrated and angry Falling in love only makes him feel guiltier for his happiness and success Meanwhile, Sam buries himself in work to avoid admitting that he s a homosexual until a relationship with a radio actor forces him to confront his nature.
Chabon s a comic geek, and he really understands the medium at a DNA level This is obviously his ode to the Golden Age of comics when the industry was born My favorite part of the book is where Joe and Sam are trying to come up with a new hero, and their conversation about what will work and what won t is a great deconstruction of what makes for a good superhero The following weekend they spend with a group of artists cooking up several heroes to fill out an entire comic book made me feel the energy and creativity that seemed to be present in air of the New York comic scene in those days.
The book also highlights the flaws of funny books of the time, too Chabon makes it clear that a lot of the stuff that came out was schlock thrown together cheaply and quickly, and the stories about creators getting ripped off by publishers are legion We also get into how comics were thought of back then Despite their large sales, they were shunned and mocked by the general public and seen as lurid trash for children Joe and Sam are proud of their creations, but they re also embarrassed to be writing about men in tights Joe often feels that he s wasting his time with war looming and his family trapped in Europe, but it s giving him the money he needs to try and get them out so he takes out his frustration by having The Escapist beating the Nazis in the pages of the comic book.
The first half of the book is the portion that I really love There s a point where Sam Joe attend the premiere of Citizen Kane, and its clever story structure and inventive camera angles inspire them to push their own work into a adult direction It s also a nice nod to the way that comics eventually started breaking the old nine panel per page format and became cinematic To me, that s the high water mark of the book because for one brief shining moment, the two men see what a comic book could become and temporarily manage to push their own self imposed limitations aside to create something new Unfortunately, like any Golden Age, it doesn t lastJoe can t let go of his desire for the kind of justice that a character like The Escapist deals out regularly because he s looking for the wrong kind of satisfaction Sam wants so badly to be normal and respected that he ends up living a lie and trying to be anything but what he is a gay writer of pulp fiction.
Chabon has crafted a great look at a bygone era and meshed it with a pretty good story about a couple of likeable characters so embroiled in their own private triumphs and tragedies that they don t realize that they re among the pioneers of a new art form even as they create it.
Whenever I mentioned the name of this book to a friend, a huge grin broke out of their face This was a universal reaction As were the words I LOVE that book That book is GREAT Not just how good it was, or skilled writing though those things are also very true , but just how in love with it they were You can t fake that And now I know why I read it in two short spurts, covering about three days each, and I was done Once you pick it up, its hard to put it down for around another hundred pages There are some sentences that are just so absorbing and beautiful, passages that are just built up so well that I found myself going back to read them over and over Parts of it were just so exhilarating to read, I had to stop and just bask in how good it made me feel to read Similar to the feeling I got from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell The only complaints I had about it which is why it gets four stars and not five is that my attention wandered during Joe s travels in the middle I thought that was a bit much and it didn t make sense to me except as a metaphor so heavy handed I will hit the author if that s what he meant I also didn t like the way that so much time passed, and yet 12 years later everything could be tied up with a little shiny bow as best for everyone, like so little had changed I just didn t think Chabon gave enough credit to what twelve years does to people He sort of dealt with it, but very quickly, and it felt like after hundreds of pages of careful development he was rushing to bring it to a close Then again, that could be me just wanting of the characters, who knows Still fantastic If you have ever loved comic books, this book is necessary to your life It s a love letter to escapism in general, but to the comic book industry and superheroes in general.
In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier Clay, Chabon asks one of the oldest questions asked in stories, and gives us the oldest answer But, you know, there s absolutely nothing wrong with that because, really, the oldest answer is the right one What s the question It s the one asked by ever since man started telling stories What is a hero And his answer is, It s not the guy who goes out there with fisty cuffs and guns blazing It s the guy who goes out there and comes back every night to feed his wife and kid That s the hero He s taken all the tropes of super hero comic books, but in the end it s not the guy with the magic, the secret lair, the girl, and the gun that s his hero In the end, he s just the side kick It s the other guy The one you didn t notice, the one with the secret identity hiding his true self He s the hero He s the one who puts aside his own life to set free the people he cares most about That s what heroism is about I love this book I love that it s about comic books, and superheroes, and story telling But most of all, I love that it s about love and what it takes to be a real hero.
In the street Hey Huh me Yeah you You wouldn t know great American literature if a pigeon pooed it all over your anorak Wow that was surreal who the hell were those guys At the office The boss wants to see you Oh my that s Mrs Higgins sitting there with Mr Duthie she s from the HR department What s going on Paul, hi, sit down, yes This is rather awkward You see, it has come to our attention that you ve been, well, how can I put this delicately, heard to say hmmm that Michael Chabon s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is well not bad Pretty good Okay ish That kind of thing Er, yes, that s right, I have Hmmm, well Er Mrs Higgins, can you explain Certainly Mr Bryant, we have a copy of the terms and conditions of employment which you signed As you know, part one clearly states that the employee agrees to promote the company s mission at all times The mission is encapsulated in the Mission Statement Perhaps you need reminding of it.
Our mission statement We undertake to manufacture by carbon neutral means the world s greatest sprockets and to work in harmonic partnership with our friends, colleagues and customers to ensure Michael Chabon s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is recognised throughout the English speaking world as the Great American Novel Wow, I had never seen that last bit It was revised in 2000 when Mr Chabon published the novel Well, I m not sure I like the drift of this discussion I don t dislike Michael Chabon s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay It s pretty good Well, Paul I m very sorry, but that s sort of the point of this interview Really though, I m surprised at you Do you know that Bret Easton Ellis declared the novel one of the three great books of my generation Did you not know that Wellbut, with respect Mr Duthie, Bret Easton Ellis is an overhyped jerk whose theatre of cruelty has been gulling the young and the impressionable for decades His opinion counts for less than nothing Less than nothing, do you hear me, less than nothing Bangs table.
Mr Duthie groans and puts his head in his hands Mr Bryant, this is to formally inform you that this is your first formal written warning regarding this matter Here File it Next to The Rules of Attraction At the hairdressers I m sorry Mr Bryant, nobody is available to cut your hair today But I see three of them hunched over a dog eared copy of Wonder Boys and they re clearly not cutting anyone s hair I m sorry In courtThird witness I clearly heard him say that if Michael Chabon s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is the great American novel then Everybody Loves Raymond is the great American sitcom.
Crowd Ooooh we like Everybody Loves Raymond too Prosecutor Mr Bryant, Michael Chabon s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a magical novel Its recreation of the golden age of the comics industry is, although cloaked in fiction, picture perfect Its characters Joe and his struggle to bring his family to America Sam and his complex relationship to his father Rosa and the depths of both her talent and compassion are gripping This novel s epic sweep is constructed with tender moments of heartfelt intimacy The story itself is, in many ways, the story of the USA itself the Depression, the American dream, isolationism, the dichotomy of racism and integration, sexual repression, the Second World War, the paranoid 1950s How , therefore, can you describe it as I quote often like reading a recipe book instead of eating the cake the seventy five earnest historical facts per paragraph tend to slow the story down to a sludgy creep for fifty pages at a time and this Every 50 pages or so I had to read a couple ecstatic reviews to jolt me into continuing, which was like getting sick of one s exercycle and watching a George Clooney movie and thinking okay I remember why I am doing this and getting back on the exercycle Crowd booooo Boooo Me Hey, where did you get that from Prosecutor this is from your very own Goodreads review PB But but that s not there anyProsecutor no, of course not, the management deleted it within ten minutes They run a responsible book reviewing site At home Jeez, the day I ve had Yeah, but look, you bring this down on yourself I mean, the Daily Telegraph saidPerfection There are perhaps four other novels I ve enjoyed this much And none of them has made me cry.
Well er that reviewer must have led a very sheltered life And not read many books Silence My mother was right You have a heart of stoneAnd very poor critical facilities Oh, what have I done Why did this happen to me There there, it s only a novel Oh my God you re at it again