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on 12 August 2012
Due to holiday activities it took me a lot longer to read this book than I would have liked. I read it over a period of 2-3 weeks, unheard of for me! Therefore I hope I can do the book justice in the review. It is a very good book, well written and full of detail and keeps the reader going along. Yes, there were some bits I found more difficult to read than others but this is often the case in a big book - and this one is a tome.
Joe Kavalier escapes Czechoslovakia leaving behind his parents and younger brother. On reaching New York and finding his cousin Sammy Clay, he joins Sammy at work writing and drawing storyboards for comic strips. Between them they invent The Escapist and many other characters. During this time Joe cannot forget his family he left behind, after hearing of his father's death, he puts all his efforts into bringing his brother Thomas to New York. He meets Rosa the woman he loves and many other people in the comic book industry, as well as hearing his invention broadcast on the radio and discussions about televising The Escapist. It is Sam who becomes more involved in this side of things while Joe focusses on getting his brother on board a ship. Disaster sadly strikes and Joe disappears for years on end. He eventually returns amongst much publicity and has to get re-acquainted with family and friends.
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on 23 June 2012
I had this book recommended to me by my friend Zac Sandler, himself a comic artist of no mean talent. And given the subject material - the comic book industry in New York during the 1930s and 1940s, I figured I was in for a treat. Certainly the book started off well, but on page 167 alarm bells started to go off. Chabon mentions how coloured artwork for a 1930s comic book is photographed using a Heidelberg camera with rotating lenses of magenta, yellow and cyan ... uh-oh. Then, a little later there's a mention of a comic being printed on a litho press. Double uh-oh.

Michael. Baby. If you're going to set out your stall to evoke the great Golden Age days of comic books, and represent characters who worked and lived in those heady times, then you need to make sure you get the details right. Comic book artwork was shot from the black and white originals using standard line black and white film. The colouring was done (often at the printers) using the classic four-colour hand separating technique, where a skilled worker would block out the areas of colour on transparent sheets using printers opaque paint. So, for the scarlet of Superman's cape they'd fill in the same area on the yellow film and on the magenta film.

You'd only use a Heidelberg with rotating lenses if you were photographing full colour artwork, something that didn't appear in comics till the end of the 1970s, when Marvel was experimenting with full colour comic art in Epic magazine (among others).

And after all that, I thought the book struggled in the last third, becoming a tawdry soap opera, and was left with the feeling that Michael Chabon, Pulitzer-winning novelist, was just slumming with this tale of an artform he felt way beneath him.

If you want to explore what life was like during the Golden Age of comics there are other books which evoke the atmosphere better. "Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book" by Gerard Jones is a terrific read and a fascinating expose of the dirty tricks played on the writers and artists of comic books by their wily employers. The Stan Lee biography "Excelsior" also provides a valuable insight on how the industry operated back then. And Steranko's "History of Comics" is far and away the best telling of the tale.
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on 22 June 2009
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.
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on 22 June 2017
I was emotionally engaged with this rich tapestry of a novel from the get go, and I don't say that very often about a book. This is a beautifully realised, lovingly researched work of art, that is both funny and serious, highbrow and lowbrow, outward looking and inward looking.

“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” spans the years from 1939 to 1954, and is an unabashedly old fashioned tale of coming of age in America during World War II and a parable of the American Dream with its promise of hope and prosperity in the intervening post war years. That's the simple version. In a nutshell, this is a story of a Jewish refugee, Joseph Kavalier, who escapes from Prague transported in a coffin with the legendary Golem. He is an expert escape artist of many talents. He leaves behind his parents, grandfather and younger brother, who he hopes will join him soon. The earliest chapters of the book take place in Prague and form the backbone of the book. Here we are introduced to Joseph’s immediate family and the loving relationship he has with his younger brother, Thomas. Here we are also introduced to Joseph’s mentor, the great Magician Bernard Kornblum, who teaches Joseph all the tricks of the trade and eventually comes up with the elaborate escape plan. He is a sort of “Kung Fu master” who fills Joe’s head with words of wisdom and points out that what matters not is what you are escaping from, rather it is what you are escaping to.

Joseph’s journey takes him to his cousins in Brooklyn, the Klaymans, where he meets his counterpart, Sammy (who later adopts the name Clay, professionally), who lives with his mother and grandmother. The two boys on the cusp of manhood form a bond straight away, and form the best of partnerships, where they enhance one another, support each other, and collaborate on a comic called The Escapist, about a super hero escape artist who fights Nazis, which is a sort of cathartic way for Joe to deal with the pain of having left his family behind.

Eventually, their talents are recognised and rewarded (Joe is the artist, Sammy has the writing ability, not to mention the moxie and business sense), but compromises need to be made both financially (bad deals are forged), and in the controversial content of the comics (Joe never backs down and Sammy of course stands by him), and The Escapist eventually becomes a radio hit.

All of this is told in the most light hearted, feel good way, during the first third of the book. The period detail is spot on, the dialogue snappy and laugh out loud funny (like the best Woody Allen film that Woody never made). Stars and artists of the time make cameo appearances (Orson Welles, Max Ernst, Dolores Del Rio). The painstaking detail about comics and their place in the pantheon of American culture is passionately realised and brought to life with vivid description.

But, it is not all light hearted and fun. There are some very serious themes running throughout, and ultimately this is a book about the most beautiful of friendships. There is a huge depth of understanding between Kavalier and Clay. In fact, it could be argued that they are the making of each other, their identities finally becoming unmasked because of their partnership and collaboration, because of their friendship. They grow up and blossom because of the impact each of them has on the other’s lives.

The central themes of this book revolve around escape and transformation, both symbolically represented by the characters they create (the aforementioned Escapist and later on the Luna Moth, another one of Joe’s creations). Escape from war, from fear, from banality. Transformation from boys to men, from European refugee to American, from artist to businessman, from comic book to graphic novel.

The most important symbol of the book is of course the Golem. Sam Clay (by virtue of his surname!) can be seen as a Golem “brought to life” when he meets Joe (and later on when he meets Tracy). It is primarily fear and lack of risk taking that hold him back, and he struggles to overcome this. The other Golem figure is of course Joe, especially later on in the book when he becomes overwhelmed by the tragedy of losing his family, and escapes further into himself and completely loses his way, haunting the streets like a ghost. His biggest nemesis is his (understandable) anger and need for revevenge, and it takes him a very long journey to finally see the futility of this. He carries a heavy burden with him.

We first encounter Rosa Sacks in the middle third of the book, when Joe literally escapes into the room where she is asleep. She, too, is an artist. She becomes the inspiration for Luna Moth. They become soul mates. And she develops a deep friendship with Sammy. The three of them become a family. This is really the most beautiful part of the book.

And then a chain of events is put into motion with tragic consequences. This becomes the pivotal moment in the book. Rosa feels directly responsible, Joe becomes misguided and sabotages his own happiness, and Sammy does a noble thing, also at the expense of his own happiness. I don't really want to say any more about the plot (I didn't want to spend too much time on this review talking about the plot in any event).

There are so many other important issues that are explored, such as fatherhood and absent fathers (both by accident and by choice), freedom of expression and censorship of art, can comics ever really be considered an art form (Michael Chabon makes a great case for this cause), and sexual liberation (a formidable challenge in 1940s/1950s America). What ultimately frees these characters from their respective shackles is love. The beauty of this book lies in its characters. They are so fully realised, so flawed, so human. This book spoke to me on a very personal level. Although my experience is not in war time, I know the pain of family tragedy and the need to escape. And, fortunately, I know the healing power of love and of creative expression. And it's a very bumpy ride.

I am astounded at some of the negative reviews of this book on Goodreads. It is not a book about comics. You don't have to be a comic geek at all to appreciate their context within 20th century American culture. The length of the book shouldn't be daunting either, as it reads so easily. However, if it is shorter books you want, then I recommend Moonglow, which has the same emotional impact as this book, in about half the number of pages.

I know there have been rumours around for a while that this book is going to be made into an HBO TV mini-series, and I really hope that if this ever happens the seriousness of the book is not lost. I wish Chabon success, he certainly deserves it.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 March 2015
This is the story of two young men in New York, from the 1930s through to the post-war period, who team up to create a comic-book superhero, The Escapist. Sammy Klayman is a second-generation American Jew, street-smart and full of big ideas. His cousin Josef Kavalier has just escaped from his hometown of Prague, now under the control of the Nazis, and where the Jewish population is beginning to feel the weight of the jackboot. Sammy's head is buzzing with comic-book stories and Joe can draw. When Sammy talks his boss into giving them a chance, The Escapist is created and the partnership of Kavalier and Clay is born.

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001 and has been touted as a Great American Novel. I must say both those things baffle me. There's some good stuff in here - Chabon can write, there's no doubt about that. But the book is at least a third too long, perhaps as much as half, and I felt much as I did about Telegraph Avenue, that underneath the wordy dazzle there isn't much depth. And, unlike Telegraph Avenue, the quality of writing in this one varies from sublime to extremely dull, and just occasionally all the way to ridiculous ("with skin the color of boiled newspaper" - I considered boiling a newspaper just to find out what his skin looked like, but lost the will to live before I got around to it.)

The first sections, covering Joe's escape from Prague and the two boys meeting and forming their partnership, are very enjoyable and I felt I was in for a real treat. However Chabon then drifts off into what is clearly an immensely well-researched history of the comic book industry, and falls into the trap of passing beyond interesting into info-dump territory. By the 25% mark I was seriously considering abandoning the book, but persevered to see if I could work out why it has garnered so many accolades. To be honest, I couldn't.

Joe's story, of trying to battle both American and Nazi officialdom to get his family out of Prague, should be an emotional one, but the impact of his various setbacks is engulfed by the sheer weight of words. As often happens when an author is wishing to make a point, Chabon uses Joe's unfortunate family like puppets to show the whole range of abuses the Jews suffered under Nazi rule, from the early minor restrictions of liberty to their incarceration in concentration camps, though he stops short of taking us on into the full horrors of those places. But because everything bad that happens, happens to one of his relatives, it begins to feel unreal after a while, and since we never really get to know his family as individual characters in their own right, I found myself feeling detached from their plight. Joe's own reactions to the increasing guilt and desperation he feels are much more moving, but Chabon stretches each stage out for too long, describing everything, physical or emotional, to within an inch of its life, robbing it of most of its effect.

The best sections are those where Joe and Sammy are interacting with each other. Metaphorically speaking (which I try not to do whenever possible), Joe is The Escapist and Sammy is his boy sidekick. But despite this their relationship feels authentic - their mutual regard for each other is believable and gives the book its heart. It's also via them that the most original parts of the book come through, in the descriptions of how they create and develop their comic book characters, and how Joe in particular, but with Sammy's support, uses this medium to try to shame the US into entering the war against Nazism.

Unfortunately I found the love interests of both characters less believable. Sammy takes an inordinate amount of time to work out that he's gay; one feels even in the 1940s he'd have had some idea of why he seems to be attracted to men; and, again, it feels as if Chabon is using Sammy's homosexuality to make points about the society of the time rather than it being a real, integral part of the character. And Joe's relationship with Rosa never feels as if it has any depth, somehow - in fact, Rosa, the template for Joe's creation of the superheroine Luna Moth, feels like something of a caricature herself.

There are too many points where the story feels contrived - where I found myself sighing over the obviousness of the twists. In contrast, occasional passages move beyond believability into near surreality, though never quite making it all the way there, leaving the story dangling in an awkward space between reality and fantasy. The metaphor of Joe as The Escapist is taken too far at some points, particularly in the strange and somewhat forced sequences relating to Joe's war experiences. Too often I was aware of the author's hand controlling the characters' actions to serve his own purpose, making it difficult to get a true feeling of involvement in either the characters or the story.

So strengths and weaknesses - but, for me, the weaknesses outweighed the strengths, and it felt like a mammoth struggle to reach the too tidy end. And when I had, I found that I felt the long journey hadn't really been worthwhile. 2½ stars for me, so rounded up.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 November 2017
“He slid off of his stool and went to look down on the autumn morning through the windows of the Kramler Building. Steam purled from the orifices of the street. A crew of a half dozen workers in tan canvas coveralls, with peaked white caps perched atop their heads, used a water hose and long dishevelled brooms to sluice a grimy tide down the gutters toward the storm drains at the corner of Broadway. Joe threw open the rattling sash of the window and poked his head out. It looked like it was going to be a fine day. The sky in the east was a bright Superman blue. There was a dank Octoberish smell of rain in the air with a faint acrid tang from a vinegar works along the East River, seven blocks away. To Joe, at that moment, it was the smell of victory.”

This is a love letter to the golden era of comic books and graphic fiction. A time when the likes of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Will Eisner were entertaining millions of kids, with their wonderfully inventive creations, a time before TV was king. Chabon has shown his passion for the genre elsewhere too, like writing the introduction to Howard Chaykin’s excellent “American Flagg”. Though this book is not confined to comic book writing, it is also a tribute to the wonder of magic and misdirection and to people like Houdini.

Chabon explores escapism in its many forms. Not just with the escapologist Houdini, but the escape from war, reality, conventional norms, pain and suffering. It’s also about loss and yearning for something else, things that are not necessarily easy to obtain or to hold on to. Although most of the action takes place in New York, when Europe and elsewhere were battling in WWII. Other events also take place in Nazi occupied Prague just before the war, and also Antarctica. This is filled with some rich and varied characters. At times it’s an epic, magical journey, the fruits of a wonderfully fertile imagination. Chabon’s prose is consistently enjoyable, and at times his writing and storytelling is great. He has pulled off some deft and clever plotting. There is some really great detail and description, especially within the superhero descriptions. He successfully sustains the quality and momentum for over 600 pages, which is a skill in itself.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 January 2015
This vast, sprawling novel features a comic book character known as "The Escapist" and the "escapist" magic world of Houdini. The metaphor of "escapism" pervades the book. People use magic and comics both to escape from the humdrum of the everyday and to have heros. During the 1930s and 1940s, as this book illustrates, people endeavored to escape from Nazi Germany and subsequently from communism. People attempt to "escape" from themselves in the book too when they deny themselves and their sexuality.

The book follows the adventures of Josef Kavalier and Sammy Clay, cousins. The book and the characters are factually based, but this book is a work of fiction and imagination. In a note the author tells us that "I have tried to respect history and geography whenever doing so served my purposes as a novelist, but whenever it did not I have cheerfully or with regret, ignored them."
Kavalier grew up in Prague, the child of educated, assimilated Jewish parents and in Prague he studies magic and art. He escapes from Prague and joins his cousin Sammy in New York. Sammy is raised by his mother, the father having abandoned the family.
Josef is a talented artist and Sammy a writer. Sammy persuades the novelty salesman for whom he works to publish a comics character he and Josef have created, "the escapist" which becomes a great commercial success. The character is initially created as a strong fighter of Hitler's Germany. Josef hopes to use the character to rescue his family in Prague. Sammy and Josef, alas, are cheated out of much of the financial reward that should have been theirs from their creation.

There is a complicated love plot, as Josef meets an American woman and Sammy discovers his homosexuality. Josef enlists in the Navy and there are startling scene shifts describing his adventures in Antartica where he carries out his own war against Germany.
The book is too long for its material but it mostly reads welll. Some of the finest writing is in the details with the occasional pointed metaphor. Also, the author at times departs from his story and gives us in his own voice what purports to be factual information about the comic book industry, the characters, or New York. I found this technique worked well. The characters are well developed and there are wonderful descriptions of New York City and of the comic book industry.

The book itself mirrors its story. It is "escapist" in that it is a robust, improbable tale different from the quiet lives most of its readers lead. The author loves his subject, the comics in particular and New York City. He wants the reader to see the comics as something of an American art form. The vibrancy, liveliness, and talent of his characters is compelling.

There isn't much of a focus in this book and it doesn't measure up to the epic cast that the author tries to give it. Readers that like this book might enjoy the novel "Martin Dressler" by Steven Millhauser. Millhuaser's book, as did this book, won a Pulitzer Prize and covers the same themes in a more succinct, evocative way. Another novel, Doctorow's "City of God" also is similar to this book in the way it discusses and praises American culture and its liveliness and diversity although that book has more overtly religious themes.

This novel deserved its Pulitzer Prize in that it shows well the course and promise of American life. This is, broadly, the worthy theme of an enjoyable book.

Robin Friedman
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on 8 January 2012
I'd heard this book was different - life changing even - so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Sad to say that while it certainly was different, it was not the book I'd expected from the positive reviews ("Dazzling" The Independant, "Perfection" The Telegraph etc).

The book is set over a couple of decades, primarily in New York City just before and during WW2. The (well researched) historical details are a novelty to someone such as myself too young to have been alive during that period - also some of the references are so American as to be lost on a British reader - though they do give the book a romantic 'other world' sort of appeal. In that regard, speaking as a non-Jew, the book was packed with so many Jewish (and indeed Czech Jewish) references that I had to spend a good deal of time referring to Google to understand the story. You'd also do well also to do some revision on what a Golem is before starting the book! At first this was interesting and even educational but after while became a wearing distraction. As Sam says to Joe about a book that he is writing "it's very Jewish". Not a criticism as such, more an observation that things can get a little confusing.

To add to the confusion the book uses a (slightly too) clever conceit of pretenting that the characters are (were) 'real'. It won't spoil the story to tell you that the two central characters (Joe and Sam) create a very successful comic strip - however the novel is jammed full of footnotes purporting to add historical detail to what in reality are almost all actually fictional events. Consequently it not always clear when one should simply enjoy the invented 'fact' and when however one is simply ignorant of the evolution of the super-hero comic book industry.

As several other reviewers have already stated too, I struggled to keep interested in the book as it takes a significant time to begin to really 'care' about the central characters.

Also - it is not clear where the book is 'going'. As a consequnce it is tricky to fully feel the urge to 'see what happens'. Never the less you have the idea that the plot has something to do with saving family members from the tyranny of Hitler. You are around half way through the book before this story all but fizzles out leaving you wondering where the story could go from there - and whether you really care enough to read the next 300 pages to find out!

The book is wonderfully written and the attention to detail is what really keeps one reading it ("he had just eaten 3 bowls of rice pudding and he had a milky baby smell"!). Also the sub plot of Magic and Houdini makes for further interest - as do the random chapters which attempt to tell a 'comic picture book' tale in words.
There are many fine, and even moving, chapters in this book - but it really feels (as one of the other reviewers has said) like it could have had a considerable amount edited out and benefited from the same.

Some brave subjects are tackled with sensitivity (I won't spoil the story by revealing what they are) and the whole 'Marvel comics' stuff is given a very sympathetic and grown up historical analysis. However threse in themselves don't make for a wholly compelling read.

Finally, the 'adventures' in this book would better be described as 'tales' or perhaps 'diaries' (there are very few really 'amazing adventures') and indeed for an 'adventure' story the ending really just fizzles out when, having stuck with the book for well over 600 pages, you are hoping for a big bang or a twist of some sort.

Interesting but not essential reading.
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on 3 September 2009
1930's New York: Bread lines, thirty percent unemployment rate, labor unrest, a city still trying to assimilate a large influx of refugees from Europe (though that river has now been slowed to a trickle by new immigration limits), a great city with hopes for the future as shown by the World's Fair, but overhung with depression and despair - what better time for the rise of the pure escapist literature of the pulp magazines and comic books? Where Batman, The Shadow, and yes, Superman! can drape a veil over everyday concerns, and allow the reader to wallow for a time in a world where things go right, where evils are summarily defeated, and where, disguised as the superhero sidekick, the reader can imagine himself playing a role.

Into this world Chabon injects Sammy Clay and his cousin Joe Kavalier, one raised in New York, the other in Prague, two young men with both artistic and literary ability, who conceive of a new idea for a superhero, the Escapist, a man whom no locks, cuffs, or iron bars can hold. An idea at the right time and place, and leading to a fantastically successful publication, though Sammy and Joe only get to see a small part of that success. As time moves on and WWII intervenes, we watch these two men develop and change, each in their own way fighting for the American Dream.

Chabon's theme is inextricably intertwined with the dreams and actions of these two men, and the road they travel is not without a large number of bumps, upheavals, disappointments, obsessions, loves, hates, and ironies. These characters are sharply drawn, their reactions to world and local events makes good sense for the type of people they are. While Chabon's prose occasionally rises to the level of some purpleness (and might make some people reach for a dictionary), it does an excellent job of making this world come alive. Clearly Chabon did his homework in digging out the history of the comic book, and his injection of his own creation into this world fits so seamlessly that it is difficult to separate the real names and history from his fictional ones.

Perhaps the best thing about this book (for me, anyway), were the times when Chabon details some of the actual story lines for these comic books, as they capture the spirit and heart of what this new medium of comic books was all about.

This may not be the greatest book ever written, but it presents a solid case for the usefulness of `escape' that I don't believe I've seen elsewhere, makes you live and see that period of our history, peoples it with some very real, if somewhat unconventional, characters, while not avoiding the darker aspects of human nature and the sometimes horrendous actions of humans against humans. And in doing all this, it is easy to see why it took the Pulitzer Prize.

---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 September 2013
Intelligently written and yet highly readable, 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay' is both funny and moving. It focusses on two young Jewish men in New York during World War II, who create a comic book superhero, and whose own lives feature dramas and adventures almost worthy of comic book in themselves - although it is always believable. The writing is full of energy and intrigue, and despite its long length, the novel retains a fast pace throughout and is never dull. The amusing nature of some of the incidents and entertaining style of prose is contrasted sharply with the horror of life in wartime Prague, where Kavalier's Jewish family are living under Nazi rule. The early chapters set in Prague have a sinister, gothic overtone to modern readers, with the benefit of hindsight, and much of the underlying narrative tension in the book comes from Kavalier's efforts to help his family escape to the USA.

The characters are well drawn and likeable, and the reader soon feels drawn into their lives. For such a long book, Chabon focusses on relatively few characters. He is not one of those writers who spends pages describing the lives of minor characters, instead going for quality on his chosen few. I felt drawn into the world of 1940s America, and could visualise the characters very clearly. The central relationship between the two cousins is one of the strengths of the book, with a sense that the sum of the partnership is greater than its two parts. There are few female characters, but the principle female character is a good one. The development of relationships between the characters are always well handled, but the most touching and painful relationship is that of Kavalier with his younger brother, even though the characters spend most of the novel on different continents and have very little dialogue together. Just like Kavalier himself, the reader can never really forget the shadow hanging over him in the form of his endangered family.

Chabon has the skill of conjuring up a sense of place without wasting words on flowery description. He brings the gloomy medieval streets of Prague, the brash excitement of New York, and the bleak emptiness of Antarctica to life with equal vividness, sometimes just pages apart. His plot zips along and is full of incident, and is well balanced with different elements. I felt that the first two thirds of the book were the strongest, and it lost its way a bit towards the end, although it was always good. The Antarctic interlude - which was well written and enjoyable in itself - felt more like a short story shoehorned in. And I found the ending rather disappointing and hurried, and I'm not sure it really worked. I would have been tempted to end the book several years sooner, and perhaps add a short epilogue.

Nevertheless, it's a hugely enjoyable story and very commendable for its ability to make you laugh and cry in equal measure. Perhaps most importantly for me, it was fun to read and kept me entertained from the first page to the last. Well worth reading.
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