Although our generation seems to collectively prefer enjoying superheroes on-screen rather than on paper, I can remember a sun-soaked childhood summer or two being spent sprawled on the grass of my grandparents’ yard with a comic book in hand. There is something inherently special about enjoying a masked protagonist’s crusade against evil panel by panel - picturing the deafening “POW” his fist makes against an ill-willing chin, inventing the sound of each character’s voice as your imagination sees fit - rather than being commandeered all of the details by the edited effects of a Batman movie.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon follows the enticing journey of cousins Sam and Joe as they make a name for themselves in the 1930’s and 40’s comic book industry in New York City. With their creation of “The Escapist”, a man who by performing incredible feats of magic and elusion “comes to the aid of all those who languish in the chains of oppression”, Sam and Joe aim to change not only the world comics, but also the realities of the world they live in. Chabon teamed with Dark Horse Comics to turn The Escapist into an actual comic book series in 2004.
“Forget about what you are escaping from. Reserve your anxiety for what you are escaping to.”
At the height of World War II, the children of America are in ravenous need of a hero. The Superman comics have recently made it big, prompting a wave of mediocre masked superhero comics to follow in pursuit of a glint of that fame. Joe Kavalier, a trained escape artist and magician, has fled the Nazi clutches of his home in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and is in desperate need of money to send for the family he has left behind. Sam Klayman (Clay, as he prefers it) harbors a wild imagination and conflicted reverence for his late, wayward father, who traveled with a circus as The Mighty Molecule strongman – the world’s “strongest Jew”.
When Joe arrives at the Klaymans’ doorstep, weary and harrowed from what he experienced in his occupied homeland, the two cousins seem to provide exactly what the other is looking for. Sam has been searching for an outlet for his creativity, to which Joe’s artistic skill makes a perfect match. Joe needs a way to make money in an unfamiliar city and Sam has the know-how and street smarts needed to survive in a dog-eat-dog city like NYC. Together they experience success and friendship, the like of which neither has experienced before.
This book can't be praised enough. Deserving winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2001, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is as much a novel as an emotional roller coaster carrying you through the tumultuous lives of these two young men. Chabon is an incredibly vivid and detailed writer whose evocative writing might leave you confused about the genre of the story (fiction or biography?)(it’s fiction). In 2004, Chabon underwent the fitting transition to become one of the screenwriters for Spiderman 2. Since The Amazing Adventures, he has gone on to write four more esteemed and prize-winning novels.
This is a long read, but one of the best I've had in a while and completely worth the commitment. It's the perfect book to sink into over a couple long weekends or over break. Add The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay to your summer reading list - you won’t regret it.
“The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost,
that they might never have existed in the first place.”