You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

My Photo
Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon's book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a novel mixing fiction and reality. It tells the story of two comic book creators, the stories they create, and how their creations come to affect them.

The story starts with two young cousins. Sam Klayman, who decides to use Sam Clay as his professional name, is a young Jewish Brooklynite living with his mother in 1939. Josef Kavalier, or Joe, is his cousin, who is living in Prague with his family when the Nazis begin to clamp down on travel for Jews. The first section tells about Joe's education as an escape artist by an old master of the art. When Joe's escape from the country is foiled by the latest Nazi restrictions, his teacher comes up with the idea of hiding him in the coffin of the Golem of Prague, which he is trying to smuggle out of the country and into Lithuania. When out of Nazi territory, Joe makes his way across Asia to Japan, San Francisco, and finally Brooklyn.

In the second part, Sam introduces Joe to comic books. Sammy is convinced that with the right artists, he can create great comic book stories. Joe comes up with some sketches and Sammy takes him to see his boss, Mr. Anapol. Sammy says that they can create the next Superman, who is the big sensation. When asked to create a superhero, instead of a tall towering figure he draws a short stocky man, reminiscent of the Golem who helped him escape from Germany. From Sammy's mind comes the Escapist, a superhero who can break out of any situation. The Escapist is not only modeled on Joe--in a sense it is his alter ego. Joe's burning desire is to help his family escape from Nazi occupation. Together, they pour into the comic book the fantasies of justice against the Nazis in a country that is not quite ready to go to war against Germany. The Escapist fights enemies who are thinly veiled Nazis.

In part three, Joe becomes guilty of his and Sammy's success while his family is still stuck in Europe. He starts taking his anger against the Nazis on Germans in New York. When he starts a scuffle with a Nazi sympathizer, his comic book creations seem to come to life as the man creates an identity for himself as the nemesis of the Escapist. He leaves a fake bomb in the offices of the comic books. In this way, Joe becomes entangled with his creations. He also meets Rosa at a party and they fall in love. When Mr. Anapol and his partners try to screw them over, Sammy manages to get them what they deserve.

In part four, the Escapist and other creations grow, and the Escapist gets turned into a radio show. Sammy meets the actor portraying the Escapist, and the two of them start an affair. Joe buys an apartment for himself and Rosa. He gets his brother passage on a ship of children leaving Europe for America. Joe becomes a magician for Bar Mitzvahs. But it all comes crashing down when the ship of children is sunk by a German submarine, and Sammy and his lover are busted at a hotel, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Joe runs away to fight Nazis, leaving Sam to marry the pregnant Rosa.

Part five has Joe in Antarctica. When all but one of his team are killed by a leaky furnace, Joe retreats to listening for Nazi signals to deal with the loss of his brother. He becomes determined to kill the last Nazi on the continent as revenge for his brother's death. But when he reaches the man, a scientist, he decides not to succumb, yet is forced to kill him when the man shoots at him.

The last part takes place nearly ten years after the war, and Sammy and Rosa have not seen Joe since he left for the war. Joe realizes that their son Tommy is really his, and starts to make contact with the boy. Tommy sends a prank letter that ends up getting Joe nearly killed on the Empire State Building. He comes home to Rosa and his son, while Sammy decides to stop being an editor of second-rate comics after he is shamed by a Congressional hearing, and goes off to pursue his dreams in Hollywood.

I really enjoyed this book. The elements of magic and escape artistry form a great background, providing a large part of Joe's character. The wonderful part of creating comic book characters is drawn out, with Sammy providing the stories and character elements and Joe providing the illustrations. The comics and real life start to intermingle.

Joe and his struggle to cope with his family's situation is the central theme of the story. It drives his every actions, and if he strays he feels guilty, even for just enjoying himself. He envisions the Escapist as performing liberating feats that he wishes he could do himself. He turns to despair when his brother dies, and nearly allows the continent of ice to consume him. He stays away from his son and the love of his life, fearful of what they would think of him.

The backdrop of World War II is rich ground for the story. Joe's hatred for Nazis and Germans gets him in trouble as well as drives his stories. His family's situations is a huge hole in his life that he can't fill.

The book is scattered with suspense and more laid back sections where the business of making comic books is shown. The partnership of Joe and Sammy, Kavalier and Clay, creates great comic stories, but it's not enough to make them happy in the end. It's a thoroughly enjoyable book. A


Post a Comment

<< Home