39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great characters and lots of research
This is a large book but a quick read - the cover is a little off putting with its 'historical drama' typeface but it is immediately apparent that the author has some serious social comments to make. He makes you interested in characters and the world events that have formed them. More impressively he jumps between the present, the recent past and key historical moments...
Published on 25 July 2001 by email@example.com
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard work
Loathe though I am to set myself against the weight of popular opinion, I found this book too long, too laboured and very hard work. The story and the style lacks nothing in originality, and although I enjoyed the first half, the long and languid style of prose began to bore me about two thirds of the way through.
I persevered and cannot criticize the content, the...
Published on 1 Mar 2005 by neil tunnock
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great characters and lots of research,
This review is from: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Paperback)This is a large book but a quick read - the cover is a little off putting with its 'historical drama' typeface but it is immediately apparent that the author has some serious social comments to make. He makes you interested in characters and the world events that have formed them. More impressively he jumps between the present, the recent past and key historical moments with ease - sometimes disorientating the reader but always to positive narrative effect.
What differentiates this from other historical american novelists such as Bellow or Roth is it's magical, child-like merging of the fantasy world of the comic book with the real horrors of the holocaust. Whereas for someone like Bellow this is always there but often unsaid or unspeakable, popping up in the cracks of modern relationships (think of Herzog), here it is more explicitly dealt with, the comic book world becoming a less than subtly metaphor for world events overtaking them.
I relished the way pre-war America was evoked via comic books - the half-stolen, half original plots and superheroes, the tawdry relationship between sponsorship and 'art' etc . . . I also enjoyed the sheer scope of the novel's abmitions - covering the horrors of anti-semitism, exile, warfare, suppressed homesexuality and what makes a 'family'. This shows great breadth of research, and my only complaint is that at times this can be worn a little heavily - the potted histories of the comic book industry did however make me hungry to find out more about this archetypical slice of 20th Century American history. Furthermore, this historical and geographical leaping about can lead to the narrative being over-reliant on the fantastic coincidence to tie things together. For the most part however Chabron pulls this off, perhaps because he makes us fundamentally care about the characters in the first place.
Finally, this book did what all my favourite books have done - that is to have left me caring enough about the characters to miss them when they were gone and wanting to know that, after all they have been through, Sammy, Joe and Rosa (and little Tommy) will live the happy, somewhat less eventful but contented lives they deserve.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly adventurous!,
This review is from: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Paperback)Like his superheroes, author Michael Chabon has pulled off an amazing feat of his own, challenging the dark forces of intolerance and elevating and empowering the little man in this terrific novel. Set in the late '30s and early '40s, the novel follows Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia, and his cousin Sam Clay, creators of superheroes and producers of comic books which attack the Nazis and inspire those who oppose them. As the reader learns about the comic book industry and the sociological conditions which made comics so popular, s/he also experiences the cousins' personal frustrations as they work to gain freedom for Joe's family, deal with industry "moneymen" who take advantage of them, and search for enduring love.
No brief summary of the action, however, can begin to convey the depth and scope of this imaginative and original novel. Chabon manages never to lose sight of the Nazi menace while putting it into completely new contexts, including magic, superheroes, Houdini-like escapes, golems, and comic book characters, and ranging from Prague to New York and Antarctica (a section that could have used some pruning). It is a novel of huge scope--and it is hugely entertaining! Mary Whipple
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard work,
This review is from: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Paperback)Loathe though I am to set myself against the weight of popular opinion, I found this book too long, too laboured and very hard work. The story and the style lacks nothing in originality, and although I enjoyed the first half, the long and languid style of prose began to bore me about two thirds of the way through.
I persevered and cannot criticize the content, the characterisation, or the peaks and troughs of the heroes' lives and careers. It is an admirable book, but the point is I felt I had to 'persevere' with it, and the best stories compel me to read until I must sleep and then I feel disappointed that it had to finish. Not the case here.
I would not recommend the reader to avoid this book. It is a 'horses for courses' read. And many will no doubt entirely disagree with my views. Decide for yourself.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fertile imagination - but needs pruning,
This review is from: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Paperback)You can see what Michael Chabon was aiming for in this bold novel of comic heroes and escapism. The author obviously has a fertile imagination, but if you have a fertile soil you need to be a good weeder and pruner. Prune "Kavalier and Clay" and you would have a terrific - because tauter - read. As it stands, it is a great effort: but sometimes an effort to read. So, although the basic conceit is clever, I was willing the writing to reach the same level.
There are great bits in amongst it all, but searching out those special sentences that make you look away from the page, is - and the gardening metaphor ends here - like searching for blooms in a thicket. The first half tries hard to set the pace, but is hampered by conversations between friends and associates that slow it down, being mundane and neither particularly interesting nor especially amusing. In places, you could skip pages and have missed nothing. Armistead Maupin dialogue it is not; if it was music, you might call it note-spinning.
There is a curious middle section that sticks out like a sore thumb: the bit about Antarctica that feels like a completely different piece, re-worked to make it fit but really a chunk of stand-alone writing that would have made a decent novella or long short story. When we get back to the characters after the War, some of the drive has gone. The Escapist has escaped yet again, but by that time it has perhaps happened once too often and even the author has tired of telling us how it was done. To my mind, the set piece of the-bungee-jump-that-wasn't is robbed of drama by the lengthy reminiscence that interrupts it. If this had been the theatre the audience would have been going, "Get on with it!".
The reconciliation between Sammy, Rosa and Joe is touching, but perhaps a little too pat. The conversations are designedly workaday, but then a lot of the conversations in the novel have been like that. I wanted the author finally to roll up his sleeves and reach into the guts of his characters. Another reviewer comments on the lack of authenticity in Joe's loss of his brother, and the same is true for Sammy's marriage to Rosa - we are told that it never worked, and we know why, but we are never really and truly made to feel the hollowness. We anticipate that Joe will stage a come-back but his re-appearance does not startle - it does not grip. I am sure another reviewer has said - probably about another of Michael Chabon's books (and I paraphrase) - "He never uses one word when several will do," and I know what he means.
All in all, despite my churlish criticisms, this is a valiant effort with plenty of engaging characters and a great main idea. But I can't get away from it: "Kavalier and Clay" with a red pen - shorter, punchier, and just that little bit deeper; now there would be a great book.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An attention-seeking meaty slab of a book,
This review is from: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Paperback)This book sat on my shelf for some while before I picked it up because it is such a great big meaty thing. You need to give it a big chunk of time to really read it effectively over several days without too many interruptions. If you can give it that kind of attention you will be completely gripped.
The re-creation of 40's and 50's America was extremely good as were the central characters. Chabon tells a story well, he doesn't spoon feed you with all the facts, you start to work it out as more information is dripped to you.
There were a couple of things I didn't like. Firstly, the comic book thing got a little tedious towards the end of the book - I know this sounds mad because it is a central theme but I think I wanted more of the characters real lives to come through, too much remained wrapped in comic fantasy. I know some will say that's the point but anyway.
I also found the second half slower although enjoyable just in a different way. I wanted more magic in Prague, a longer section over there would have been fabulous because it's such an atmospheric city. Just niggly things really. It's a great read and well worth the time spent reading it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Amazing Adventures, Mainly Of Kavalier,
This review is from: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Paperback)A great sprawling work about some very well-trod topics (the 20th century (male) American experience, the Holocaust, the existential crises of writers and thinkers, being Jewish in New York) and some more neglected ones (magicians, comic books, Golems). 'The Amazing Adventures...' is the kind of book that sucks you in whether or not its subject or its style is to your usual tastes. It is well-paced, engrossing, frequently funny, and often touching. It will please anyone who enjoys the actual experience of reading, the turning of pages and the chasing of narratives.
The prose is emminently readable, which leaves Chabon free to built our affection for his characters and their obsessions. And despite the easy flow of text, Kavalier and Clay do throw up their own surprises. A sub-plot about Prague and the history of the Golem delights, as do the descriptions of what cannot be conveyed between these covers - the actual panels and inks of the comics on which Sam and Joe invest their energies and their fears. Several plot twists are set-up and then stepped away from, which was strangely pleasing to this reader. There are sustained moments of tension and thrill and some wonderful supporting characters - especially the enigmatic magic-guru Bernard Kornblum and Carl Ebling, bitter white supremacist and President of the Aryan-American League. The titular Joe Kavalier is by far the most interesting figure and the shifting settings of his journey, across polar ice and Nazi checkpoints, Empire state buildings and freezing European rivers, animate the bulk of the book. There is also an exceptionally entertaining scene featuring Salvador Dali.
Despite all this, this does not quite deserve the top ranking it is sometimes given. Its pleasures are a little too easy for that. Rather, this is a wonderful example of writing as a craft, as a medium for expression that catches your interest as a good story, well told.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emotional start, dull middle, great ending!,
This review is from: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Paperback)The book started off really well, and by page 35 I was so fond of the characters that I had tears in my eyes when they had to say goodbye to each other. This is a very rare event for me, as I don't often cry when reading. There are perhaps five books that have managed to move me to tears in my entire lifetime, so this just goes to show the power of the writing in this book.
It continued well, and I loved the detail of the magic tricks, and Joe's escape from Prague in 1939 to his cousin's flat in America. Then everything went wrong. There were about 200 pages of boring details about life in a comic book office. I completely lost interest in the book, and at one point I nearly gave up on it. I'm really glad that I didn't though, as the last third of the book was as good as the beginning. The plot was clever, the vivid characters were back and the ending was very satisfying.
An amazing book, with a long, dull bit in the middle. It could easily have had 4.5 or 5 stars if the boring bit had been condensed to about 10 pages.
Recommended, as long as you are able to get through a long slow section - it is worth it in the end!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute must read,
This review is from: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Paperback)Superbly written and engrossing story about two cousins, American Samuel Klayman, and Polish refuge Josef Kavalier, who first meet as the young refuge is shoved into bed alongside his cousin. Before that happens though Josef has to engineer his escape from the Nazi threat in Poland. They grow up and establish themselves as a partnership in comics. The story is complex and meaningful, and any attempt to give a synopsis would only spoil the pleasure for the reader. That it covers a lifetime; trauma, love, devotion, loyalty, loss and sacrifice and much more should suffice.
What shines through is a most beautiful story of the developing relationship between the two cousins and Rosa, the extravagant young girl who becomes inextricably involved with the two boys. There is a beautiful air of melancholy that pervades the story at times, including circumstances that surround Sam in relation to the isolation his sexual inclinations create for him. Full of wit and humour and humanity, the writing is superb, a sheer pleasure to read. This is truly a book that cannot be recommended too highly, an absolute must read
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay, but over long, Yarn,
This review is from: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Paperback)I am going to have to agree with one of the previous reviewers and swim against the tide of popular opinion on this one: I thought that this was just an okay book.
The premise certainly wetted my appetite: weaving the early history of comic books, two powerful central characters (one a former escape artist and jewish WWII refugee), the second world war, love, loss, magic, jewishness and sexual identity. Crikey, what a melting pot - can't fail can it? Well, yes and no.
The first half of the novel I found to be a real page turner and gets going right from the off and I found the two tandem tales of Joe and Sammy to be interesting and exciting. The development of a comic, and it's central character, is well realised and credible. The two central characters are believable and sympathetic and one really lives their lives on their shoulders.
But then Chabon begins to write 'The Great American Novel' and depicts New York as if it is Florence in the Sixteenth Century and throws in everything but the kitchen sink. The link of homosexuality and jewishness is metaphorically sign-posted like Vegas and felt very crude and sometimes simple plot twists are written as if the reader couldn't guess. The book then begins to labor and the last third is a bit leaden and it reads as if Chabon didn't know how to end it - which is a shame.
I don't know if I can wholeheartedly recommend this book because I think it is too long and should have had 200 pages edited out. It is a good story and at times is brilliant, but it is just ordinary for much of the time, hence three stars.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You know damn-well, the escapist doesn't fly!,
This review is from: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Paperback)Joe Kavalier and his partner Sammy Clay, are comic-book creatives in New York just before America joined WWII. The novel opens with the story of Joe's journey to America which is full of danger. From the very beginning Joe is a young man who flirts with catastrophe. He almost fails to get to America in the first place, when he is stranded in Prague. Joe is shipped out on an illegal transport, hidden in the coffin of the Golem of Prague. It means a long and perilous journey, but he makes it and turns up at the house of his aunt in New York, where he meets his cousin Sammy Klaymann, who later shortens his name to Clay.
This story spans the war years and a little beyond. It is often heart-breaking, often exciting, and full of wonderful insight, especially about the place of comic books in American fiction. The stories are always about human beings, however, and this is no one-theme book. The adventures of these two admirable, though very different, men, touch on the themes of war (with a breath-taking struggle for survival in the Arctic for Joe who joins the Navy as soon as America enters the war), the striving of the boys to get improvements in their pay as all their work is indentured to their employer, love (of course), and the theme of escape. More than anything else, perhaps, escape is the touchstone, especially of Joe's early life, as he begins to learn of the exploits of Houdini, and yearns to follow in his footsteps. As with everything else, early exploits almost lead to disaster, and this too adds to the charm, sometimes rather naive, of the book.
This is an enjoyable read which encompasses most of the defining moments of two lives. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 20001 - an achievement richly deserved.
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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (Paperback - 7 Jan 2008)