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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

 

Paperback: 656 pages

Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition (31 Jul 2001)

Language English

ISBN-10: 1841154938

ISBN-13: 978-1841154930

 

The 'blurb':

One night in 1939, Josef Kavalier shuffles into his cousin Sam Clay's cramped New York bedroom, his arduous and nerve-wracking escape from Prague finally achieved - with the help of his mentor, the master illusionist Kornblum. But little does he realise that this uneasy first meeting is the start of an extraordinary friendship and even more fruitful business partnership. For Sam, Joe's formidable artistic skills are a chance to liberate them both from lives as inventory clerks at the Empire Novelties Incorporated Company. Together, they create a comic strip called The Escapist, its superhero a Nazi-busting saviour who liberates the oppressed around the world with his Golden Key. The Escapist makes them their fortune and their name, but, as the situation worsens in Europe, Joe can only think of one thing. How can he effect a real-life escape, and free his family from the tyranny of Hitler? Michael Chabon's exceptional new novel is a thrilling tight-rope walk between high comedy and bitter tragedy, and confirms his position as one of the most inventive and daring of contemporary American writers. In Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, he has created two unforgettable characters bound together by love, family and cartoons. Their story, which ranges from the heady heights of the American Dream to the desperation and grief of the Second World War, and which journeys from New York and Czechoslovakia to the Arctic Circle, will live on in the mind of every reader long after the final page is turned.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was the March book for my 'Doorstep Challenge'. It was a brilliant book to properly start it off - you just fly through it, yet absorb everything. Definitely one of those doorsteps that doesn't feel like a lot to wade through. I polished off a hundred pages on one day alone!

 

The characterisation of Joe and Sam is wonderfully rendered from the start, and that's one aspect that's guaranteed to get my interest in a novel. Joe's escape at the beginning was jaw-droppingly amazing (and tense! My nerves were shot by the time he reached New York).

 

Like Sarah Waters' recent novel The Night Watch, Kavalier & Clay offers a different perspective of WWII: specifically, it looks at how Jewish-Americans reacted to what was going on in Europe... although this is really only a small (but significant) part of a novel that's thematically rich.

 

The other contextual backdrop was the burgeoning comic book industry: highly involving and clearly a labour of love on Chabon's part, that never appeared superfluous to the actual narrative of Joe and Sam.

The description of comic strips and their stories were lovingly detailed, so much so that I could visualise the panels myself. When Chabon 'blurred' the two styles

e.g. when the hotel Joe is performing is bombed by his white-supremacist nemesis

, I could actually feel the morphing of the graphic story into the actual reality of what was going on. Brilliant!

 

The 'fantastical' elements of the story that bookended the novel, such as Joe's escape from Prague and

his eventual return

, actually heightened the sense of humanity and 'down-to-earthiness' of the characters and situations.

 

I was impressed by the ending, as Chabon clearly decided to take his time so that what happened wasn't rushed, and drew a sense of the inevitable about it.

 

There was one part of the novel that disappointed me slightly,

the section entitled 'Radioman' where Joe has been deployed to Syberia - I think? - after enlisting in the US Army. I'm not a fan of War Lit, so I found this part quite tedious and, to be honest, pretty clich

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