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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

by Michael Chabon

Book list 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

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly This epic novel about the glory years of the American comic book (1939-1954) fulfills all the promise of Chabon's two earlier novels (The Mysteries of Pittsburgh; Wonder Boys) and two collections of short stories (A Model World; Werewolves in Their Youth), and nearly equals them all together in number of pages. Chabon's prodigious gifts for language, humor and wonderment come to full maturity in this fictional history of the legendary partnership between Sammy Klayman and Josef Kavalier, cousins and creators of the prewar masked comic book hero, the Escapist. Sammy is a gifted inventor of characters and situations who dreams "the usual Brooklyn dreams of flight and transformation and escape." His contribution to the superhero's alter ego, Tom Mayflower, is his own stick legs, a legacy of childhood polio. Joe Kavalier, a former Prague art student, arrives in Brooklyn by way of Siberia, Japan and San Francisco. This improbable route marks only the first in a lifetime of timely escapes. Denied exit from Nazi Czechoslovakia with the visa his family sold its fortune to buy him, Joe, a disciple of Houdini, enlists the aid of his former teacher, the celebrated stage illusionist Bernard Kornblum, in a more desperate escape: crouched inside the coffin transporting Prague's famous golem, Rabbi Loew's miraculous automaton, to the safety of exile in Lithuania. This melodramatic getawayDalmost foiled when the Nazi officer inspecting the corpse decides the suit it's wearing is too fine to buryDis presented with the careful attention to detail of a true-life adventure. Chabon heightens realism through a series of inspired matches: the Escapist, who roams the globe "coming to the aid of those who languish in tyranny's chains," with Joe's powerlessness to rescue his family from Prague; Kavalier & Clay's Empire City with New York City in the early 1940s; and the comic industry's "avidity of unburdening America's youth of the oppressive national mantle of tedium, ten cents at a time," with this fledgling art form's ability to gratify "the lust for power and the gaudy sartorial taste of a race of powerless people with no leave to dress themselves." Well researched and deeply felt, this rich, expansive and hugely satisfying novel will delight a wide range of readers. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Joe Kavalier, a young artist and magician, escapes pre-World War II Czechoslovakia, making his way to the home of Sam Clay, his Brooklyn cousin. Sam dreams of making it big in the emerging comic-book trade and sees Joe as the person to help him. As the cousins gain success with their masked superhero, the Escapist, Joe banks his earnings to bring his family from Prague and falls in love with Rosa Saks, daughter of an art dealer. But when the ship carrying his brother to America is torpedoed, Joe joins the navy and is posted to Antarctica. Half-insane, he returns to a wandering life that leads back to Rosa and now husband Sam in 1953. What results is a novel of love and loss, sorrow and wonder, and the ability of art to transcend the "harsh physics" of this world and gives us a magical glimpse of "the mysterious spirit world beyond." Recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/00.]DLawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

 

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