The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Michael Chabon, published in 2000. It follows two cousins, Jewish-American Sammy Claymann and Jewish-Praguer Josef Kavalier, and their experiences in the comic book industry leading up to and during America’s involvement in WWII.
As a reader of comic books, I find any insight into the industry fascinating so the premise of this book immediately appealed to me. As did the gorgeous Folio Society edition. At almost £80 I can’t really justify the price at the moment, so I have the kindle edition, but maybe one day I’ll splash out. I just wanted to mention it in case you were looking to spend £80 on a really lovely book, because it does look stunning. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Chabon’s focus is not on the comic books, which was unfortunate for me.
That is, perhaps, not so unexpected, maybe my expectations were a bit too high. Maybe the words Pulitzer Prize should have warned me, because if you don’t know of this literary prize it is one of the most prestigious. For a majority of the book the plot is focused on Josef, or Joe, who struggles to find his place in America when the rest of his family remains in Prague. Sammy too has a much more hard-hitting plot which is also concerned with his identity and how he can express it during this period of history. The split between the comic book world and the personal trials was probably 65/30 in favour of their personal lives. It seems callous to sit here and say that I wanted less of it, especially when the topics are so heartbreakingly vital but it’s true. I think, and I didn’t expect to be able to critique a winner of the Pulitzer, that Chabon had an opportunity to do more with the comic book aspect, and he chose not to go down that route
In a similarly negative vein, the narrative had a tendency to jump around just a touch, something which I don’t think will be as noticeable on a second read, because I will be reading this a second time. However, as it stands the book is 632 pages, so I understand the desire to keep it from getting too much longer and I can appreciate that.
On to a more positive note, because you all knew it was coming. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a book that I could read a hundred times in my lifetime and always find something new in it. It’s a delicate balance of fact and fiction, of hope and despair, all set in the unique world of comic books. In my mind The Escapist, their primary superhero, is as much cannon as Batman and Captain America. It was particularly fascinating to see the inception of this character early on in the novel, and the way in which comic book characters typically appear flippant while also holding a mirror up to society. Whether you enjoy them or not, and I very much do, comic books are a unique part of American society and seeing this period through that lens was refreshing.
Despite some flaws I really cannot recommend The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay enough. You needn’t be put off if you’re not a comic book reader because that it only one facet of an extremely complicated plot, and I already miss Chabon’s world. There is something about his prose that, while not espeically lyrical like Aciman’s, makes this book feel as thoguh it is a part of the American literary cannon, thoguh barely twenty years since publication.
If you’ve read this book then I would love to know what you thought about it, so leave your two cents down in the comments section. If not, then what is a book that you love but haven’t given five stars? Is that something that you do at all, or am I an outlier? Whatever your opinion let me know down below.