Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay has actually been on my to-read list for a while. People rave about this one, and lots of people I know call it one of their favorite novels of all time. After reading it, I see why. It’s got everything.
It’s complex and intricate, but approachable and funny. The characters are three-dimensional and, while not always likeable, always human. The whole saga has a leisurely pace that manages to be sweeping and compelling. It’s got pathos and atmosphere and brilliant historical detail, including cameos by historical figures. It’s got World War II, comic books, escapists and magicians, a story frame which treats Kavalier and Clay as actual figures in the golden era of comics, and a poignant family story.
The basic story is this: In 1939 New York City, Joe Kavalier, a refugee from Hitler’s Prague, joins forces with his Brooklyn-born cousin, Sammy Clay, to create comic-book superheroes. The two form Empire Comics, and create a character called The Escapist. The story follows Joe and Sam through the war years and into the mid 1950’s, when superhero comics are going out of fashion.
Chabon takes a lot of time exploring all of the inspiration and fantasies that go into Sam and Joe’s creations as they mature and grow as people, and as the world changes around them. The history of comics in America figures into the plot quite a bit. Most of all, the themes of heroism and escapism (two big appeal factors for superheroes) shine through the most in this meaty novel.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is an amazingly rich, detailed, intelligent and entertaining story. I’d suggest it if you’re after a novel to immerse yourself in, if you enjoy novels about the Jewish experience in World War II, if you enjoy novels about New York City, and if you enjoy family-saga type stories. Really. It’s got a little something for everyone.