I came across this novel sometime in 2003. It was my first year in the bookstore and one thing I liked to do was scan book catalogues for titles that would interest me, then order two copies. One for myself and the other for the store. Yes it is selfish but I figured out that if I read the book I could sell it to someone who was interested. This method never failed so I did this action regularly and guilt free. True I had to wait three weeks but then I always got a good discount. At that time i had a backlog so I didn’t mind the wait.
What fueled my interest was the fact that the book was about comics. I had no prior knowledge about Chabon or even the fact that this novel won the Pulitzer. It was the plot that drew me in.
It’s 1939 and Jewish teenager Josef Kavalier just manages to escape from war torn Prague and emigrate to New York, and seek refuge with his cousin Sam Klayman. Together the boys share a love of comics and create their own character called the escapist. A Houdini like character who outwits The Nazi’s. This is during the golden age of comics so their timing is perfect. From there onwards the book chronicles the trials and tribulations of these two artists but you can separate this into three types of histories.
The first one is the History of comics and all the happenings which befell the comics industry from the 1940’s – 1960’s. Publisher problems, lack of codes. Everything. it’s all documented here.
The second more crucial one is how Nazism affected American Jewish society in that time. It is worth mentioning that the creators of Superman were also Jewish and felt the need to create a character that would help people feel protected from the Nazi reign. The Superman (and many other characters ) were born. Both Kavalier and Clayman represent this attitude.
The third is the personal history of the duo. I did mention it earlier but I felt that it should be singled out. Both cousins have their personal problems which they try deal with throughout the book. To state them here could give away the ending of the novel.
The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a wonderful book. It’s also very powerful and drives it’s point home, despite the fact that it’s quite a weighty tome. Although it’s main topics have been tackled, the idea of including the golden age of comics, which was crucial to the U.S. citizens during this time is a masterstroke and adds originality to the novel.