The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

I love comics because I love to see how art can tell a story plus I don’t really have to use my imagination that much. The art in comics just pop out and really bring the story to life. I love period literature, stories set during a certain era or point in history, these type of stories make for an interesting read. A lot of liberties may be taken but reading about events in the past through the eyes of fictitious characters always make historical fiction exciting. Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay combine comics and historical fiction to tell the story of the “Golden Age of Comics”. 

In the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,Michael Chabon explores the history of comic books through his two main characters, Josef Kavalier a Czechoslovakian Jew escaping the throes of Nazism in Europe and his cousin, Sammy Klayman/Clay an up and about New Yorker with big dreams and stories. Together they cash in on the comic book craze gripping America after the debut of Superman and create the Escapist. The Escapist is influenced by Harry Houdini’s exploits at that time and Josef Klayman’s own experience escaping fascist Europe in the 1930’s. The Escapist is a success and brings both Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay newfound fame and stardom, their lives are changed from scruffy Brooklyn teenagers to young cosmopolitans of New York City rubbing elbows with the likes of Salvador Dali and Orson Welles. As their success takes them to the top of New York Jewish high society, their stories take on different paths. Joe finds love in the arms of Rosa Saks and yearns for his family to join him in America. While Sam discovers his sexuality and its dangers with the young debonair Tracy Bacon. As the novel progresses, their adventures bring them from the height of fame and fortune to the slow decline of The Escapist’s popularity to the halls of Senate committee hearings on the corruption of the youth through comics.

With a novel of this scope it is clear why Michael Chabon won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel, it is ambitious and very entertaining. The novel doesn’t just stick to the central idea, which is comics, but also explores each character’s own desires, successes and failures. By the middle of the novel, I was really aching to find out the conclusion of their drama but at the same time fearing that ending the novel would also mean the end of their adventures which I didn’t want.

Apart from building really humanistic and flawed characters, the author highlights real life struggles that plagued the comic book industry during its conception, zenith, and eventual decline. Michael Chabon illustrates how businessmen cash in on the fame and rake in the money while totally ignoring and throwing legalese and contractual obligations at underpaid artists and writers who rightly deserve royalties from characters they created. The conflict is intense and lurks in the background until finally it is resolved and concluded.

At over 15 years old, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is timeless and exciting. It rightly deserves the praise it has been accorded and despite some boring parts, it is still interesting. Well-researched but a bit heavy on the language, Kavalier & Clay will no doubt entertain comic book geeks and bookworms alike for more years to come.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is sold in most major bookstores. 


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