|Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” was recently recommended to me by a friend and teaching colleague, and then, oddly enough, by Nora Ephron.
In her beautiful piece about the joys of literature “On Rapture” (found in her delicious collection of essays “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman”) she describes “Kavalier and Clay” as the type of book that makes one love books:
“I’ve just surfaced from spending several days in a state of rapture – with a book. I loved this book. I loved every second of it. I was transported into its world. I was reminded of all sorts of things in my own life. I was in anguish over the fate of its characters. I felt alive, and engaged, and positively brilliant, bursting with ideas, brimming with memories of other books I’ve loved…the state of rapture I experience when I read a wonderful book is one of the main reasons I read, but it doesn’t happen every time or even every other time, and when it does happen, I’m truly beside myself.”
I took on the 600-plus paged tome over Christmas and finished at the New Year. After reading it, I understood what Ephron meant. I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a novel this much.
“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” is about two cousins, Sam Kavalier and Joseph Clayton, living in New York on the cusp of World War II. Both young men are Jewish; Sam born and raised in the city, while Joseph has just slipped past the closing borders of Prague and escaped to the United States.
Both young men are artists who join the ranks of the growing comic book industry with their own creation, “The Escapist,” “another hero running around in long underwear,” who fights the forces of evil (Nazis) around the world. The young men’s personal successes, relationships and failures are manifested in each comic book edition, and suddenly the cheap art form becomes more than a shotgun marriage of art and commerce; instead, it becomes an icon of the artists’ own hopes and desires.
I loved that even as Kavalier and Clay create “The Escapist,” Chabon brilliantly weaves his own characters and plot using the history of comic books and the legacy of Jewish artists, performers, and musicians of the era, to fuel readers’ imagination with the heady social and political environment of the ‘30s and ‘40s. While his characters are magnificently knowable, just as intriguing is the historical and cultural research Chabon employs, ensuring you’ll never read about, or watch, superheroes the same again.