The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon, Author
Michael Chabon, Author Random House Inc $27.95 (656p) ISBN 978-0-679-45004-7
Reviewed on: 09/18/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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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.)
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