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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
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on 11 May 2008
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was an instant popular and critical success when it came out in 2000 being nominated for a raft of awards. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001 and Hollywood has been sniffing around it ever since. Michael Chabon the author wrote the only known screenplay, which struggled to reduce a 635-page book to a 2-hour film. At one point, the cast was Toby Maguire (Peter in Spiderman) to play Sam Clay, Natalie Portman (V for Vendetta) to play Rosa Saks and Jude Law to play Joe Kavalier.

The difficulties for the film is what makes the book a joy as it starts in 1938 as Superman bursts on the scene and ends in 1954 as the Kefauver Senate hearings delivers the death blow to a declining comic book industry. A central theme is the roles of the Jews in the comic book industry: it explored the mythology of comic hero and its impact Joe and Sam own struggles and personal journeys form the stories of the Escapist which in turn shape their lives. Sam struggling to come to terms with being Gay and Joe trying to rescue his family stuck in an increasingly bleak Nazi run Prague. It also explores the historical rip off the artists and writers of the period. Superman's creators did not come into the real money until the blockbuster Superman movies and a court case prised the money out of Hollywood's coffers. Historical characters from the period from the comic industry and the movie, art and political world some in and out of the story. The Escapist also draws on Joe Kavalier's training and experience of magic and Houdini type tricks and the impact this has on his life.

The writing is a tour deforce so that you hear, touch and smell the period. Each character has their own voice and even minor characters when they enter the story in a few paragraphs you have their back-story and motives seamlessly woven in so they become real characters. The point of view moves from character to character and no easy option or resolution is allowed as the story builds to the magic trick ending. Scenes are comic one minute and bitterly tragic the next as you join in the roller coaster of their lives. Yes I am going say it...if you only have the chance to read one book this year make it this one, you wont be disappointed.
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on 27 May 2009
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.
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on 2 August 2010
It is odd to feel so out of the consensus, but I just did not enjoy this book the way the other reviewers have and I'm puzzled by all the praise and awards. It is readable enough, but not that special and it is gosh-darned long for something that doesn't actually deliver.

I liked his other books. It was recommended by a friend whose opinions I listen to. But... The writing is fluid, the historical elements are fine, it is readable enough, there are a few decent characters... but... but... It didn't grab me. I didn't care that much. I soldiered on, I finished it, but 600+ pages later it was all a bit 'ho hum'.

That said, a few things to say: some people preferred the first half to the latter: I only got interested, I only 'switched on' in the last 100 pages. But I wouldn't recommend you plough through first 500 just to get there. There are some poignant moments but reviewers saying how they blubbed...?? PUH-LEAZE, sister, give me a break.

On an intellectual level the way Chabon uses the tricks and techniques of comics to create a structure is quite clever, but that's not enough. The conclusion (I won't spoil it) has quite a clever echo / repetition of the first theme (again, a clever allusion to comic-book styling) - but it is not subtle and it's a little bit "look at me; I can do literary trickisiness". The characters are 2-dimensional, the emotions are a bit mawkish and obvious. Again, in artistic terms this is 4 colour litho of a comic book, it is not nuance. And perhaps that is deliberate, but there are better books out there (oddly, even some comics).

There are book where "you have to persevere" and then it grabs you and WOOMPH: Oscar & Lucinda, Midnight's Children.

I hoped this was one like that, but then I decided, no: I'm just not that into it.
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on 10 December 2016
I'm aware that this is a renowned book. I enjoyed the first half, but felt it dragged later on. For what my opinion is worth, the author should have cut some of the 'history of the comic book' bits set in dull rooms. The characters are engaging, however. A few more of the 'amazing adventures' would have been a boon.
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on 12 October 2010
I really enjoyed Chabon's "Wonder Boys" and so turned to Kavalier and Clay when I read the hype and awards it had received (including the Pulitzer for fiction in 2001). Perhaps my expectations were too high but I ultimately didn't enjoy this book.

Chabon's ability at creating superb characterizations and entertaining plot was present for the first 2/3 of the book, and up to this point it was a joyful ride and a page turner. I did initially have trouble getting into the book but once I finally pushed past chapter 3 or 4 I couldn't put it down. He manages to mix humour, tragedy, and drama in a deft and satisfying manner for most of the first 2/3.

Unfortunately for me the book falls flat in the final 1/3 with a plot twist too far, and the story moving too far beyond the realms of believability. Some of the elements of the final 3rd are handled very well and Chabon's writing style and ability doesn't let him down. But, for me at least, the plot itself is a let down and so sadly by the end of the book I didn't really care how it ended and found myself mourning the great book I had started reading.

Personally I found the book disappointing but it's still worth a read; and a great number of people seem to regard this as a great book so maybe you will too; those first 2/3 are superb and alone make it worth reading.
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on 11 August 2014
Fully enjoyed this epic tale. So cleverly written, I often read sentences twice to allow the prose to properly absorb.
Perfectly formed characters and smart, funny dialogue, I would recommend this to anyone with eyes and a brain.
Will try The Yiddish Policemans Union on the back of this.
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on 29 November 2011
There are two main protagonists in this novel, Jewish cousins, Sam Clayman and Joe Kavalier. The novel starts when Sam is woken in the middle of the night by his mother who then introduces Joe who has escaped from Prague just before the start WWII. Together they end up taking the comic book world in New York by storm with their character the escapist which they use to wage their own personal war on the Nazis.

The characterisation of the two protagonists is wonderful who throughout the novel become rounded figures complete with their own likeable and more dislikeable traits. The pain that Kavaliers feel as his family including his young brother are left back in Prague is heartbreaking and Clayman's confusion over his sexuality is nicely played out.

While the novel started off promising and included a daring escape from Prague, from about page 100 it became (and I hate to say this) a bit of a chore to read. There was nothing wrong with the writing or plot exactly but for a few hundred pages the novel just seemed to `plod', it was laboured and it felt too long. It did pick up again about 150 pages from the end and I did find the ending quite touching but by that point I think the author lost me abit.
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on 26 December 2008
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!
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on 23 August 2013
A fun read, but not as 'simple' as you might first expect for a novel about comics. As a comic fan I really enjoyed it, but I don't think you need to be a comic fan to enjoy it. It touches on lots of themes. Love, WW2, immigration, modern art, etc.
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on 4 November 2013
I loved this book.
Colourful, evocative and spellbinding.
A real glimpse inside very different worlds!
Would recommend this to anyone who wants to escape for a little whirl and be fascinated by their amazing adventures.
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