Today’s book review is for the first book I picked up and finished in January 2022 – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.
The book was recommended to me (and a copy loaned to me) by my sister’s boyfriend, Chris. I will be open and honest and say that I didn’t know what to expect going into this book. It sounded good, but it combines a theme and a setting that I wouldn’t necessarily expect to go together… World War II and comics.
Even though I’m not a comic book fan, I actually enjoyed it’s inclusion and emphasis in this narrative. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get on with this particular theme, but it ended up working out really well. Even if you’re not sure about it, I would recommend giving it a go anyway!
If you want to find out more, here are the details of the book!
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Picador USA
Publication Date: 19 Sept 2000
Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. With exhilarating style and grace, Michael Chabon tells an unforgettable story about American romance and possibility.
I really enjoyed this multifaceted novel and all the different elements and subgenres it brings together. It combines historical fiction, which I already love, with an emphasis on living in times of war. There are parts which touch on direct conflict, but the emphasis is more on the average Joe (no pun intended) and life during the period of World War II.
A subject that played heavily in the narrative, which was completely new to me, was comic books. Our main protagonists, Sam and Joe, become famous for producing new comic books and characters. This is a combination of genres which I have never seen before. If you’d asked me if I thought I would enjoy them together, I would have been sceptical. But, they go hand-in-hand very well in this book.
Whilst the subject of comic book producers could be seen as whimsical, in the wider landscape of World War II, it’s easy to believe these creations become a tonic for both the populous and the protagonists looking to escape their everyday lives, and enact a form of justice which they will never see in their lifetimes.
Naturally, this book does not shy away from difficult subjects. Joseph Kavalier escapes the clutches of the Führer when he is sent to America. He has a distant familial link to the country and narrowly manages to get in. He hopes to save enough to be able to pay for the rest of his family to join him the US. However, not all goes as planned. Adversity and strife are no strangers to the characters in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
Sam experiences his own difficulties. For a long time, he struggles to come to terms with his identity, in a world which isn’t very accepting of him, or others like him. He may not have had to flee for his life from a sadistic individual who would end it, but instead, he would face more widespread persecution if people knew his secret.
Both of these characters come from very different backgrounds, and yet we see a lot of similarities between them. Whether they know it or not, I think these similarities draw them together… even more so than the family link they have. Yet at the same time, their differences create conflict in the narrative.
The American Dream and escapism are the main themes of this novel. From Joe smuggling himself in to US, and his obsession to Houdini-esque escapes, to both protagonists escape attempts from the oppressive forces in their lives, the author has created a realistic narrative and setting.
The narrative combines a fast-paced plot line with an immersive story. From the busy streets of New York to an isolated army base and a mission to defeat the enemy, there is a depth to this novel which is difficult to describe, yet easy to appreciate when reading the book.
Had The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay not been recommended to me by my sister’s boyfriend, it is unlikely I would have read this of my own accord. However, I’m glad I did! It was refreshing to try something new and to push the boundaries of my usual reading repertoire!
Have you read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, or any other books, written by Michael Chabon?