Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

by Kim on December 31, 2008 · 12 comments

If there is one genre I have gotten sucked into this year, it’s comic books.  I started with Watchmen, then moved on to Fables, adding Blankets and Persepolis for good measure.  When I came across The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, a fictional novel set during the Golden Age of Comics, I knew I had to read it.

The Amazing Adventures follows the story of cousins Sammy Klayman and Josef Kavalier.  Josef, a Polish Jew, escapes from Poland with the help of his family and a local escape artist.  When Josef arrives at his cousin’s home in the United States, Sammy discovers his cousin is a talented artist.  Sammy sees this potential partnership as an outlet for some of the comic book superhero stories he has in his head but doesn’t have the artistic talent to draw himself.  Taking the pseudonyms Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, the cousins become comic book business partners.

One of the strongest parts of this book is the characterization Chabon does of Kavalier and Clay.  Both men are fighting strong demons, and Chabon is skilled at illustrating these problems and the implications they might have.  Sam spends much of the book in an identity struggle over his sexuality and his role as a comic book businessman, while Joe fights to earn enough money to bring the rest of his family over to the United States.  Just when it seems that Kavalier and Clay are going to find what they are seeking, tragedy sends Joe into a tailspin leaving Sammy to pick up the pieces.  I did not see this particular plot twist coming, and was in awe of how well Chabon wrote his way to the conclusion which wraps up the story without feeling cookie cutter or unbelievable.

Another favorite part of the book is the rich history of comic books that Chabon drew on to write the story.  Although The Amazing Adventures is fiction, I felt like I learned a lot about the growth of comic books from the 1930s to the 1940s from reading the story.  It also made me want to know more about this period, so I’ll probably read something like The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hadiju when I get a chance.

This is the kind of book I wish that I had a book group to discuss it with.  There is a ton of symbolism with the comic characters Kavalier and Clay create that I feel like I just wasn’t appreciating as I read.  Although it’s a long book — 639 pages — I’d recommend The Amazing Adventures to anyone who has become interested in comic books or anyone who enjoys a book with a solid and entertaining plot and characters.  For me, this book more than earned its 2001 Pulitzer Prize and its spot as one of Entertainment Weekly’s top 100 New Classics.

Links to Enjoy:

Other Reviews: Things Mean A Lot; Farm Lane Books

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

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