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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

4.6 182
by Michael Chabon

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With this brilliant novel, the bestselling author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys gives us an exhilarating triumph of language and invention, a stunning novel in which the tragicomic adventures of a couple of boy geniuses reveal much about what happened to America in the middle of the twentieth century. Like Phillip Roth's American


With this brilliant novel, the bestselling author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys gives us an exhilarating triumph of language and invention, a stunning novel in which the tragicomic adventures of a couple of boy geniuses reveal much about what happened to America in the middle of the twentieth century. Like Phillip Roth's American Pastoral or Don DeLillo's Underworld, Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a superb novel with epic sweep, spanning continents and eras, a masterwork by one of America's finest writers.

It is New York City in 1939. Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just pulled off his greatest feat to date: smuggling himself out of Nazi-occupied Prague. He is looking to make big money, fast, so that he can bring his family to freedom. His cousin, Brooklyn's own Sammy Clay, is looking for a collaborator to create the heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit the American dreamscape: the comic book. Out of their fantasies, fears, and dreams, Joe and Sammy weave the legend of that unforgettable champion the Escapist. And inspired by the beautiful and elusive Rosa Saks, a woman who will be linked to both men by powerful ties of desire, love, and shame, they create the otherworldly mistress of the night, Luna Moth. As the shadow of Hitler falls across Europe and the world, the Golden Age of comic books has begun.

The brilliant writing that has led critics to compare Michael Chabon to John Cheever and Vladimir Nabokov is everywhere apparent in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Chabon writes "like a magical spider, effortlessly spinning out elaborate webs of words that ensnare the reader," wrote Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times about Wonder Boys—and here he has created, in Joe Kavalier, a hero for the century.

Editorial Reviews

Michael Chabon, the author of Wonder Boys, comes storming back with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a midcentury story of comic books, superheroes, and real-world survival. When Joe Kavalier, having recently fled Nazi-occupied Prague, teams up with comic book visionary and Brooklyn native Sammy Clay in New York City in 1939, the result is the comic book hero The Escapist. Thus begins Joe and Sammy's own flight into the world of a burgeoning new form of art and expression. Eventually, however, the reality of the war in Europe becomes unavoidable for even these masters of fantasy, setting the scene for an epic novel of great depth, humor, and wisdom.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This epic novel about the glory years of the American comic book (1939-1954) fulfills all the promise of Chabon's two earlier novels (The Mysteries of Pittsburgh; Wonder Boys) and two collections of short stories (A Model World; Werewolves in Their Youth), and nearly equals them all together in number of pages. Chabon's prodigious gifts for language, humor and wonderment come to full maturity in this fictional history of the legendary partnership between Sammy Klayman and Josef Kavalier, cousins and creators of the prewar masked comic book hero, the Escapist. Sammy is a gifted inventor of characters and situations who dreams "the usual Brooklyn dreams of flight and transformation and escape." His contribution to the superhero's alter ego, Tom Mayflower, is his own stick legs, a legacy of childhood polio. Joe Kavalier, a former Prague art student, arrives in Brooklyn by way of Siberia, Japan and San Francisco. This improbable route marks only the first in a lifetime of timely escapes. Denied exit from Nazi Czechoslovakia with the visa his family sold its fortune to buy him, Joe, a disciple of Houdini, enlists the aid of his former teacher, the celebrated stage illusionist Bernard Kornblum, in a more desperate escape: crouched inside the coffin transporting Prague's famous golem, Rabbi Loew's miraculous automaton, to the safety of exile in Lithuania. This melodramatic getaway--almost foiled when the Nazi officer inspecting the corpse decides the suit it's wearing is too fine to bury--is presented with the careful attention to detail of a true-life adventure. Chabon heightens realism through a series of inspired matches: the Escapist, who roams the globe "coming to the aid of those who languish in tyranny's chains," with Joe's powerlessness to rescue his family from Prague; Kavalier & Clay's Empire City with New York City in the early 1940s; and the comic industry's "avidity of unburdening America's youth of the oppressive national mantle of tedium, ten cents at a time," with this fledgling art form's ability to gratify "the lust for power and the gaudy sartorial taste of a race of powerless people with no leave to dress themselves." Well researched and deeply felt, this rich, expansive and hugely satisfying novel will delight a wide range of readers. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
As Hitler conquers Europe, the Golden Age of Comic Books invades the United States in this story full of flight, transformation, and escape. Two Jewish cousins team up to make their mark on both continents. Artist Josef Kavalier arrives in New York City in 1939, having used his magician's training to smuggle himself out of Prague. His younger cousin, seventeen-year-old Sammy Klayman, has dreamed of escaping Brooklyn his whole life. When Sammy's boss approves a new comic book series, Kavalier and Clay (Klayman) together begin to brainstorm ideas for their superhero. What motivates their hero? The duo quickly creates The Escapist, whose mission is to rescue people everywhere from oppression. Taking on Hitler in their first issue, their success soon provides the money that Sammy and Joe need to seek their disparate dreams. When Joe falls under the spell of Rosa Saks, she inspires a new character, Luna Moth. Joe's repeated failures to rescue his family from Europe, Sammy's shame for his homosexual encounters, and Rosa's secret pregnancy bring about more transformations, flights, and escapes. Chabon, author of Wonder Boys (Villard, 1995) delivers rich prose that is a far cry from the monosyllabic speech bubbles of Batman. This book has the heft of an epic and fulfills that promise with descriptions of Houdini-esque escape, comic book history, an intriguing plot, wry humor, snappy dialogue, and numerous heroes and villains. Mature teens will enjoy the hows and whats of this book, but it is the motivation of the characters, the question of "Why?" that will keep them flipping the pages of this winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P S A/YA (Hard to imagine it beingany better written; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2000, Random House, 659p, $26.95. Ages 16 to Adult. Reviewer: Cindy Dobrez SOURCE: VOYA, August 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
Library Journal
Joe Kavalier, a young artist and magician, escapes pre-World War II Czechoslovakia, making his way to the home of Sam Clay, his Brooklyn cousin. Sam dreams of making it big in the emerging comic-book trade and sees Joe as the person to help him. As the cousins gain success with their masked superhero, the Escapist, Joe banks his earnings to bring his family from Prague and falls in love with Rosa Saks, daughter of an art dealer. But when the ship carrying his brother to America is torpedoed, Joe joins the navy and is posted to Antarctica. Half-insane, he returns to a wandering life that leads back to Rosa and now husband Sam in 1953. What results is a novel of love and loss, sorrow and wonder, and the ability of art to transcend the "harsh physics" of this world and gives us a magical glimpse of "the mysterious spirit world beyond." Recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/00.]--Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Daniel Mendelsohn
I'm not sure what the exact definition of a "great American novel" is, but I'm pretty sure that Michael Chabon's sprawling, idiosyncratic, and wrenchin new bookis one.
New York Magazine
David Bahr
…dazzling and delightful…
Ken Kalfus
The depth of Chabon’s thought, his sharp language, his inventiveness and his ambition make this a novel of towering achievement.
New York Times Book Review
R.Z. Sheppard
Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures Kavalier Clay is a serious but never solemn novel about the American comic book's Golden Age, from the late 1930's to the early 1950s.
Time Magazine
...the themes are masterfully explored, leaving the book's sense of humor intact and characters so highly developed they could walk off the page...Chabon has pulled off another great feat.
...the themes are masterfully explored, leaving the book's sense of humor intact and characters so highly developed they could walk off the page...Chabon has pulled off another great feat.
Kirkus Reviews
A stroke of sheer conceptual genius links the themes of illusion and escape with that of the European immigrant experience of America in this huge, enthralling third novel from the author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988) and Wonder Boys. (1994).

Czech immigrant Josef Kavalier arrives in Brooklyn in 1939 to stay with his aunt's family, and sparks are immediately struck between "Joe" (a talented draftsman) and his cousin Sammy Klayman, a hustling go-getter (and hopeful "serious writer") who dreams of success in the burgeoning new field of newspaper comic strips. The pair dream up, and draw the exploits of, such superheroes as "the Escapist" (a figure resembling "Houdini, but mixed with Robin Hood and a little bit of Albert Schweitzer," whose sources are revealed in extensive flashbacks that also detail Joe's training as a magician and escape artist) - and "Kavalier and Clay" become rich and famous. But the shadow of Hitler overpowers Joe's imagination, sending him on an odyssey of revenge (to Greenland Station as a naval technician, in a furiously imaginative sequence) and into retreat from both his celebrity and the surviving people he still loves. Meanwhile, even as the world of comics is yielding to the pressures of change and political accusation (in the form of Senator Estes Kefauver's Congressional Committee investigation), Sammy makes a parallel gesture of renunciation, continuing to live in a fragile fantasy world. The story climaxes unforgettably - and surprisingly - atop the Empire State Building, and its lengthy denouement (a virtuoso piece of sustained storytelling) ends in a gratifying resolution of the deceptions and disappearances that have become second nature (as well as heavy burdens) to Joe, and a simultaneous "unmasking" and liberation that release Sammy from the storybook world they had made together.

A tale of two magnificiently imagined characters, and a plaintive love song to (and vivid recreation of) the fractious ethnic energy of New York City a half century ago.

From the Publisher
“It’s absolutely gosh-wow, super-colossal—smart, funny, and a continual pleasure to read.”—The Washington Post Book World
“The depth of Chabon’s thought, his sharp language, his inventiveness, and his ambition make this a novel of towering achievement.”—The New York Times Book Review
“I’m not sure what the exact definition of a ‘great American novel’ is, but I’m pretty sure that Michael Chabon’s sprawling, idiosyncratic, and wrenching new book is one.”—New York
“The themes are masterfully explored, leaving the book’s sense of humor intact and characters so tightly developed they could walk off the page.”—Newsweek
“A page-turner in the most expansive sense of the word: its gripping plot pushes readers forward. . . . Chabon is a reader’s writer, with sentences so cozy they’ll wrap you up and kiss you goodnight.”—Chicago Tribune

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
15 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Part One—The Escape Artist

In later years, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier's greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog-tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry Houdini. "To me, Clark Kent in a phone booth and Houdini in a packing crate, they were one and the same thing," he would learnedly expound at WonderCon or Angouleme or to the editor of Comics Journal. "You weren't the same person when you came out as when you went in. Houdini's first magic act, you know, back when he was just getting started. It was called 'Metamorphosis: It was never just a question of escape. It was also a question of transformation." The truth was that, as a kid, Sammy had only a casual interest, at best, in Harry Houdini and his legendary feats; his great heroes were Nikola Tesla, Louis Pasteur, and Jack London. Yet his account of his role-of the role of his own imagination-in the Escapist's birth, like all of his best fabulations, rang true. His dreams had always been Houdiniesque: they were the dreams of a pupa struggling in its blind cocoon, mad for a taste of light and air.

Houdini was a hero to little men, city boys, and Jews; Samuel Louis Klayman was all three. He was seventeen when the adventures began: bigmouthed, perhaps not quite as quick on his feet as he liked to imagine, and tending to be, like many optimists, a little excitable. he was not, in any conventional way, handsome. His face was an inverted triangle, brow large, chin pointed, with pouting lips and ablunt, quarrelsome nose. He slouched, and wore clothes badly: he always looked as though he had just been jumped for his lunch money. He went forward each morning with the hairless cheek of innocence itself, but by noon a clean shave was no more than a memory, a hoboish penumbra on the jaw not quite sufficient to make him look tough. He thought of himself as ugly, but this was because he had never seen his face in repose. He had delivered the Eagle for most of 1931 in order to afford a set of dumbbells, which he had hefted every morning for the next eight years until his arms, chest, and shoulders were ropy and strong; polio had left him with the legs of a delicate boy. He stood, in his socks, five feet five inches tall. Like all of his friends, he considered it a compliment when somebody called him a wiseass. He possessed an incorrect but fervent understanding of the workings of television, atom power, and antigravity, and harbored the ambition-one of a thousand-of ending his days on the warm sunny beaches of the Great Polar Ocean of Venus. An omnivorous reader with a self-improving streak, cozy with Stevenson, London, and Wells, dutiful about Wolfe, Dreiser, and Dos Passos, idolatrous of S. J. Perelman, his self-improvement regime masked the usual guilty appetite. In his case the covert passion-one of them, at any rate-was for those two-bit argosies of blood and wonder, the pulps. He had tracked down and read every biweekly issue of The Shadow going back to 1933, and he was well on his way to amassing complete runs of The Avenger and Doc Savage.

The long run of Kavalier & Clay-and the true history of the Escapists birth-began in 1939, toward the end of October, on the night that Sammy's mother burst into his bedroom, applied the ring and iron knuckles of her left hand to the side of his cranium, and told him to move over and make room in the bed for his cousin from Prague. Sammy sat up, heart pounding in the hinges of his jaw. In the livid light of the fluorescent tube over the kitchen sink, he made out a slender young man of about his own age, slumped like a question mark against the doorframe, a disheveled pile of newspapers pinned under one arm, the other thrown as if in shame across his face. This, Mrs. Klayman said, giving Sammy a helpful shove toward the wall, was Josef Kavalier, her brother Emil's son, who had arrived in Brooklyn tonight on a Greyhound bus, all the way from San Francisco.

"What's the matter with him?" Sammy said. He slid over until his shoulders touched cold plaster. He was careful to take both of the pillows with him. "Is he sick?"

"What do you think?" said his mother, slapping now at the vacated expanse of bedsheet, as if to scatter any offending particles of himself that Sammy might have left behind. She had just come home from her last night on a two-week graveyard rotation at Bellevue, where she worked as a psychiatric nurse. The stale breath of the hospital was on her, but the open throat of her uniform gave off a faint whiff of the lavender water in which she bathed her tiny frame. The natural fragrance of her body was a spicy, angry smell like fresh pencil shavings. "He can barely stand on his own two feet"

Sammy peered over his mother, trying to get a better look at poor Josef Kavalier in his baggy wool suit. He had known, dimly, that he had Czech cousins. But his mother had not said a word about any of them coming to visit, let alone to share Sammy's bed. He wasn't sure just how San Francisco fitted in to the story.

"There you are," his mother said, standing up straight again, apparently satisfied at having driven Sammy onto the easternmost rive inches of the mattress. She turned to Josef Kavalier. "Come here. I want to tell you something." She grabbed hold of his ears as if taking a jug by the handles, and crushed each of his cheeks in turn with her lips. "You made it. All right? You're here."

"All right," said her nephew. He did not sound unconvinced.

She handed him a washcloth and went out. As soon as she left, Sammy reclaimed a few precious inches of mattress while his cousin stood there, rubbing at his mauled cheeks. After a moment, Mrs. Klayman switched off the light in the kitchen, and they were left in darkness. Sammy heard his cousin take a deep breath and slowly let it out The stack of newsprint rattled and then hit the floor with a heavy thud of defeat. His jacket buttons clicked against the back of a chair; his trousers rustled as he stepped out of them; he let fall one shoe, then the other. His wristwatch chimed against the water glass on the nightstand. Then he and a gust of chilly air got in under the covers, bearing with them an odor of cigarette, armpit, damp wool, and something sweet and somehow nostalgic that Sammy presently identified as the smell, on his cousin's breath, of prunes from the leftover ingot of his mother's "special" meatloaf-prunes were only a small part of what made it so very special-which he had seen her wrap like a parcel in a sheet of wax paper and set on a plate in the Frigidaire. So she had known that her nephew would be arriving tonight, had even been expecting him for supper, and had said nothing about it to Sammy.

Josef Kavalier settled back against the mattress, cleared his throat once, tucked his arms under his head, and then, as if he had been unplugged, stopped moving. He neither tossed nor fidgeted nor even so much as flexed a toe. The Big Ben on the nightstand ticked loudly. Josef's breathing thickened and slowed. Sammy was just wondering if anyone could possibly fall asleep with such abandon when his cousin spoke.

"As soon as I can fetch some money, I will find a lodging, and leave the bed," he said. His accent was vaguely German, furrowed with an odd Scots pleat.

"That would be nice," Sammy said. "You speak good English."

"Thank you"

"Where'd you learn it?"

"I prefer not to say."

"It's a secret?"

"It is a personal matter."

"Can you tell me what you were doing in California?" said Sammy. "Or is that confidential information too?"

"I was crossing over from Japan!'

"Japan!" Sammy was sick with envy. He had never gone farther on his soda-straw legs than Buffalo, never undertaken any crossing more treacherous than the flatulent poison-green ribbon that separated Brooklyn from Manhattan Island. In that narrow bed, in that bedroom hardly wider than the bed itself, at the back of an apartment in a solidly lower-middle-class building on Ocean Avenue, with his grandmother's snoring shaking the walls like a passing trolley, Sammy dreamed the usual Brooklyn dreams of flight and transformation and escape. He dreamed with fierce contrivance, transmuting himself into a major American novelist, or a famous smart person, like Clifton Fadiman, or perhaps into a heroic doctor; or developing, through practice and sheer force of will, the mental powers that would give him a preternatural control over the hearts and minds of men. In his desk drawer lay-and had lain for some time-the first eleven pages of a massive autobiographical novel to be entitled either (in the Perelmanian mode)Through Abe Glass, Darkly or (in the Dreiserian) American Disillusionment (a subject of which he was still by and large ignorant). He had devoted an embarrassing number of hours of mute concentration-brow furrowed, breath held-to the development of his brain's latent powers of telepathy and mind control. And he had thrilled to that Iliad of medical heroics, The Microbe Hunters, ten times at least. But like most natives of Brooklyn, Sammy considered himself a realist, and in general his escape plans centered around the attainment of fabulous sums of money.

From the age of six, he had sold seeds, candy bars, houseplants, cleaning fluids, metal polish, magazine subscriptions, unbreakable combs, and shoelaces door-to-door. In a Zharkov's laboratory on the kitchen table, he had invented almost functional button-reattachers, tandem bottle openers, and heatless clothes irons. In more recent years, Sammy's commercial attention had been arrested by the field of professional illustration. The great commercial illustrators and cartoonists Rockwell, Leyendecker, Raymond, Caniff-were at their zenith, and there was a general impression abroad that, at the drawing board, a man could not only make a good living but alter the very texture and tone of the national mood. In Sammy's closet were stacked dozens of pads of coarse newsprint, filled with horses, Indians, football heroes, sentient apes, Fokkers, nymphs, moon rockets, buckaroos, Saracens, tropic jungles, grizzlies, studies of the folds in women's clothing, the dents in men's hats, the lights in human irises, clouds in the western sky. His grasp of perspective was tenuous, his knowledge of human anatomy dubious, his line often sketchy-but he was an enterprising thief. He clipped favorite pages and panels out of newspapers and comic books and pasted them into a fat notebook: a thousand different exemplary poses and styles. He had made extensive use of his bible of clippings in concocting a counterfeit Terry and the Pirates strip called South China Sea, drawn in faithful imitation of the great Caniff. He had knocked off Raymond in something he called Pimpernel of the Planets, and Chester Gould in a lockjawed G-man strip called Knuckle Duster Doyle. He had tried swiping from Hogarth and Lee Falk, from George Herriman, Harold Gray, and Elzie Segar. He kept his sample strips in a fat cardboard portfolio under his bed, waiting for an opportunity, for his main chance, to present itself.

"Japan!" he said again, reeling at the exotic Caniffian perfume that hung over the name. "What were you doing there?"

"Mostly I was suffering from the intestinal complaint," Josef Kavalier said. "and I suffer still. Particular in the night."

Sammy pondered this information for a moment, then moved a little nearer to the wall.

"Tell me, Samuel," Josef Kavalier said. "How many examples must I have in my portfolio?"

"Not Samuel. Sammy. No, call me Sam."


"What portfolio is that?"

"My portfolio of drawings. To show your employer. Sadly, I am obligated to leave behind all of my work in Prague, but I can very quickly do much more that will be frightfully good."

"To show my boss?" Sammy said, sensing in his own confusion the persistent trace of his mother's handiwork. "What are you talking about?"

"Your mother suggested that you might to help me get a job in the company where you work. I am an artist, like you."

"An artist." Again Sammy envied his cousin. This was statement he himself would never have been able to utter without lowering his fraudulent gaze to his show tops. "My mother told you I was an artist?"

"A commercial artist, yes. For the Empire Novelties Incorporated Company."

For an instant Sammy cupped the tiny flame this secondhand compliment lit within him. Then he blew it out.

"She was talking through her hat," he said.


"She was full of it."

"Full of...?"

"I'm an inventory clerk. Sometimes they let me do pasteup for an ad. Or when they add a new item to the line, I get to do the illustration. For that, they pay me two dollars per."

"Ah." Josef Kavalier let out another long breath. He still had not moved a muscle. Sammy couldn't decide if this apparent utter motionlessness was the product of unbearable tension or a marvelous calm. "She wrote a letter to my father," Josef tried. "I remember she said you create designs of superb new inventions and devices."

"Guess what?"

"She talked into her hat."

Sammy sighed, as if to suggest that this was unfortunately the case; a regretful sigh, long-suffering—-and false. No doubt, his mother writing to her brother in Prague, had believed that she was making an accurate report; it was Sammy who had been talking through his hat for the last year, embroidering, not only for her benefit but to anyone who would listen, the menial nature of his position at Empire Novelties. Sammy was briefly embarassed, not so much at being caught out and having to confess his lowly status to his cousin, as at this evidence of a flaw in the omniveillant maternal loupe. Then he wondered if his mother, far from being hoodwinked by his boasting, had not in fact been counting on his having grossly exaggerated the degree of his influence over Sheldon Anapol, the owner of Empire Novelties. If he were to keep up the pretense to which he had devoted so much wind and invention, then he was all but obliged to come home from work tomorrow night clutching a job for Josef Kavalier in his grubby little stock clerk's fingers.

"I'll try," he said, and it was then that he felt the first spark, the tickling finger of possibility along his spine. For another long while, neither of them spoke. This time, Sammy could feel that Josef was still awake, could almost hear the capillary tricklee of doubt seeping in, weighing the kid down. Sammy felt sorry for himi. "Can I ask you a question?" he said.

"Ask me what?"

"What was with all the newspapers?"

"They are your New York newspapers. I bought them at the Grand Central Station."

"How many?"

For the first time, he noticed, Josef Kavalier twitched. "Eleven."

Sammy quickly calculated on his ringers: there were eight metropolitan dailies. Ten if you counted the Eagle and the Home News. "I'm missing one."


"Times, Herald Tribune," he touched two fingertips, "World-Telegram, Journal-American, Sun." He switched hands. "News, Post. Uh, Wall Street Journal. And the Brooklyn Eagle. And the Home News in the Bronx." He dropped his hands to the mattress. "What's eleven?"

"The Woman's Daily Wearing."

"Women's Wear Daily?"

"I didn't know it was like that. For the garments." He laughed at himself, a series of brief, throat-clearing rasps. "I was looking for something about Prague."

"Did you find anything? They must have had something in the Times."

"Something. A little. Nothing about the Jews."

"The Jews," said Sammy, beginning to understand. It wasn't the latest diplomatic maneuverings in London and Berlin, or the most recent bit of brutal posturing by Adolf Hitler, that Josef was hoping to get news of. He was looking for an item detailing the condition of the Kavalier family. "You know Jewish? Yiddish. You know it?"


"That's too bad. We got four Jewish newspapers in New York. They'd probably have something."

"What about German newspapers?"

"I don't know, but I'd imagine so. We certainly have a lot of Germans. They've been marching and having rallies all over town."

"I see."

"You're worried about your family?"

There was no reply.

"They couldn't get out?"

"No. Not yet" Sammy felt Josef give his head a sharp shake, as if to end the discussion. "I find I have smoked all my cigarettes," he went on, in a neutral, phrase-book tone. "Perhaps you could-"

"You know, I smoked my last one before bed," said Sammy. "Hey, how'd you know I smoke? Do I smell?"

"Sammy," his mother called, "sleep."

Sammy sniffed himself. "Huh. I wonder if Ethel can smell it. She doesn't like it. I want to smoke, I've got to go out the window, there, onto the fire escape."

"No smoking in bed," Josef said. "The more reason then for me to leave it."

"You don't have to tell me," Sammy said. "I'm dying to have a place of my own."

They lay there for a few minutes, longing for cigarettes and for all the things that this longing, in its perfect frustration, seemed to condense and embody.

"Your ash holder," Josef said finally. "Ashtray!'

"On the fire escape. It's a plant!"

"It might be filled with the ... spacek? ... kippe? ... the stubbles?"

"The butts, you mean?"

"The butts."

"Yeah, I guess. Don't tell me you'd smoke-"

Without warning, in a kind of kinetic discharge of activity that seemed to be both the counterpart and the product of the state of perfect indolence that had immediately preceded it, Josef rolled over and out of the bed. Sammy's eyes had by now adjusted to the darkness of his room, which was always, at any rate, incomplete. A selvage of gray-blue radiation from the kitchen tube fringed the bedroom door and mingled with a pale shaft of nocturnal Brooklyn, a compound derived from the haloes of streetlights, the headlamps of trolleys and cars, the fires of the borough's three active steel mills, and the shed luster of the island kingdom to the west, that came slanting in through a parting in the curtains. In this faint glow that was, to Sammy, the sickly steady light of insomnia itself, he could see his cousin going methodically through the pockets of the clothes he had earlier hung so carefully from the back of the chair.

"The lamp?" Josef whispered.

Sammy shook his head. "The mother," he said.

Josef came back to the bed and sat down. "Then we must to work in the darkness."

He held between the first fingers of his left hand a pleated leaf of cigarette paper. Sammy understood. He sat up on one arm, and with the other tugged the curtains apart, slowly so as not to produce the telltale creak. Then, gritting his teeth, he raised the sash of the window beside his bed, letting in a chilly hum of traffic and a murmuring blast of cold March midnight. Sammy's "ashtray" was an oblong terra-cotta pot, vaguely Mexican, filled with a sterile compound of potting soil and soot and the semipetrified skeleton, appropriately enough, of a cineraria that had gone unsold during Sammy's houseplant days and thus predated his smoking habit, still a fairly recent acquisition, by about three years. A dozen stubbed-out ends of Old Golds squirmed around the base of the withered plant, and Sammy distastefully plucked a handful of them-they were slightly damp-as if gathering night crawlers, then handed them in to his cousin, who traded him for a box of matches that evocatively encouraged him to EAT AT JOE'S CRAB ON FISHERMAN'S WHARF, in which only one match remained.

Quickly, but not without a certain showiness, Josef split open seven butts, one-handed, and tipped the resultant mass of pulpy threads into the wrinkled scrap of Zig Zag. After half a minute's work, he had manufactured them a smoke.

"Come," he said. He walked on his knees across the bed to the window, where Sammy joined him, and they wriggled through the sash and thrust their heads and upper bodies out of the building. He handed the cigarette to Sammy and, in the precious flare of the match, as Sammy nervously sheltered it from the wind, he saw that Josef had prestidigitated a perfect cylinder, as thick and straight and nearly as smooth as if rolled by machine. Sammy took a long drag of True Virginia Flavor and then passed the magic cigarette back to its crafter, and they smoked it in silence, until only a hot quarter inch remained. Then they climbed back inside, lowered the sash and the blinds, and lay back, bedmates, reeking of smoke.

"You know," Sammy said, "we're, uh, we've all been really worried ... about Hitler... and the way he's treating the Jews and ... and all that. When they, when you were ... invaded.... My mom was ... we all..." He shook his own head, not sure what he was trying to say. "Here." He sat up a little, and tugged one of the pillows out from under the back of his head.

Josef Kavalier lifted his own head from the mattress and stuffed the pillow beneath it. "Thank you," he said, then lay still once more.

Presently, his breathing grew steady and slowed to a congested rattle, leaving Sammy to ponder alone, as he did every night, the usual caterpillar schemes. But in his imaginings, Sammy found that, for the first time in years, he was able to avail himself of the help of a confederate.

What People are Saying About This

Carolyn Parkhurst
From the author of The Dogs of Babel:
If you'd asked me if I'd ever be interested in a book about the golden age of comic books, I would have said no.... But the characters are so utterly human, and their problems so real and so heartbreaking, that I loved every page.
From the Publisher
“It’s absolutely gosh-wow, super-colossal—smart, funny, and a continual pleasure to read.”—The Washington Post Book World
“The depth of Chabon’s thought, his sharp language, his inventiveness, and his ambition make this a novel of towering achievement.”—The New York Times Book Review
“I’m not sure what the exact definition of a ‘great American novel’ is, but I’m pretty sure that Michael Chabon’s sprawling, idiosyncratic, and wrenching new book is one.”—New York
“The themes are masterfully explored, leaving the book’s sense of humor intact and characters so tightly developed they could walk off the page.”—Newsweek
“A page-turner in the most expansive sense of the word: its gripping plot pushes readers forward. . . . Chabon is a reader’s writer, with sentences so cozy they’ll wrap you up and kiss you goodnight.”—Chicago Tribune

Meet the Author

Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Summerland (a novel for children), The Final Solution, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and Gentlemen of the Road, as well as the short story collections A Model World and Werewolves in Their Youth and the essay collections Maps and Legends and Manhood for Amateurs. He is the chairman of the board of the MacDowell Colony. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children.

Brief Biography

Berkeley, California
Date of Birth:
May 24, 1963
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
B.A., University of Pittsburgh; M.F.A., University of California at Irvine

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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 182 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you want to indulge yourself in Escapism at its fullest, definitely read "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay". This book is so spell-binding, you will sometimes forget you are reading a work of fiction. The characters come to life on the pages of the book, as well as in the comic books Joe and Sammy write. At times you will sympathize with Joe, then yell at Anapol, be mystified by Rosa, and hope for Tommy. All in all, this is an utterly fascinating book! Be prepared to have a dictionary near you at all times!
Lisa_RR_H More than 1 year ago
I suppose given this is my first book by Chabon, I shouldn't yet say I have a new favorite writer, but I can say after this one I want to go out and read all this others. First, the author is wonderful at conjuring up WWII era New York City--especially as a native New Yorker I loved how he took me to that time. The novel also somehow in its characters and events gives me a new understanding of what went into the imagining of comic books from the feats of Houdini to the yearning to punch Hitler in the face. It makes me care and feel for the characters, particularly Joe--you feel his desperation trying to get his family--his Jewish family--out of Nazi Europe. As many takes on the Holocaust as I've seen, I can't recall a work that shows you this aspect of it--not of those trying to get out but those trying to get them in and those attempts lend a great deal of suspense and later poignancy. Then there's the style--I can't say enough about the style. Reading I'm reminded of some virtuoso on the piano or violin miraculously playing some work by Liszt. The work is in done in omniscient voice--rarely seen in the last century and so rarely done well, but here it's a great deal of the pleasure in reading this story--beautifully, sometimes sensuously written, insightful with flashes of humor, a wonderful imagination and the sort of story you're sorry to come to an end. I left it feeling this was a story for the ages--but it was something else I've rarely read in so-called "literary fiction"--great fun to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have never been an enormous fan of comic books, yet when a friend of mine recommended this novel to me, I took him up on it. I found it to be an amazing, incredibly human story. The description was vivid and realistic, easily understood, yet the author used words in ways I had never seen before. The characters, I found, were as real to me as my friends, and I found the well-placed comic relief a welcome break from the depth of the story-who would have thought, in a book about comics? As much as I would love to keep this book to myself, I feel it deserves every ounce of praise it receives, and I think that every award it was given could not do it justice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book blew my mind. From page one, Chabon had me hooked with his skillful writing and witty plot. The book was a joy ride: it had its high points, its low points, is calm points, but never was it a boring read. Sitting down to read for ten minutes led to an hour long reading extravaganza; I couldn't put the book down. Now, while the book does specifically revolve around Joe Kavalier, the title is still completely valid. Sam Klayman (Clay) fills a unique and important role from page one, and especially so going into the end of the book (don't worry, I wont ruin it for you). The thing that sealed the deal for me in this book is Chabon's amazing use of his knowledge of the Jewish culture, New York, and the time period. It's a perfectly crafted novel with detail after detail leaving no holes in the plot. Never once did I have to scratch my head and say, "This makes no sense." Everything was masterfully pieced together to create a phenomenal quilt of literature.
mchugh2001 More than 1 year ago
An amazing tale that grips you, pulls you in, and makes you care about the times, the characters, their history, and their future. This is the best book I've ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I confess. I have never ventured too far into the pool of comic books, save for a trip to the theatre to catch the latest summer blockbuster. I randomly picked this book off the shelf while roaming through the local library, and I have been congratulating myself on having such fine-tuned intuition ever since. This books is one of the best--the closest thing to the 'Great American novel' that I have ever read. The prose flows with almost poetic quality, and the narrative is so beyond engaging that it is haunting. Despite being over 600 pages long, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay never loses its footing. It's a sharp, witty, and heartbreaking book worthy of an active, thoughtful reader with an addiction to erudition. Michael Chabon is a master storyteller, and this may very well be his magnum opus.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great storytelling. I was completely drawn in to the world created in this book, and it has stayed with me in the years since I first read it.
Dianne13 More than 1 year ago
Kavalier and Clay is an "Amazing" read! Loved it from the first page, carried it around the house with me, laughed out loud, shook my head and cried. Most of all did not want it to end. I savored the last pages. Do yourself a favor and read it soon.
Wilson54 More than 1 year ago
I love historical fiction. This book was a fun read, fast paced story yet also gave perspective to the far reaching sadness caused by the Third Reich. The characters were simultanously funny and sad.
ArchieGoodwin More than 1 year ago
An epic tale of a partnership across the span of history, rich with details of the birth and evolution of the comic book. Unforgettable characters along with suspense and magical wonder.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Amazing Adventures is a big, sprawling story about two Jewish comic book artists living in 1940s New York City, cousins Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay. Joe is an apprentice magician and Houdini aficionado who uses his skills to escape from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and arrive in America. His cousin Sammy, a native Brooklynite, is a small kid with a gimpy leg and vast imagination. Sammy quickly befriends Joe and shares with him his enthusiasm for comic books. With Sammy's ideas and Joe's natural artistic talent, they begin creating their own successful comics, including The Escapist, a superhero who 'comes to the rescue of those who toil in the chains of tyranny and injustice' and represents Sammy's desire to be strong and Joe's hatred of Nazism. Escapism is one of the main themes, and probably the only theme that holds together well in this book. Joe escapes from the Nazis and later tries to escape from his grief and responsibilities. Sammy escapes into marriage to hide his true desires, and his wife Rosa escapes into her work (inking romance comics) to forget the man she really loves and believes is lost (Joe). And comic books themselves represent an escape. But the other themes disparately never link up. The plot twists, without any reason or closure, so it feels like nothing is happening. The book plugs along solidly in the first half, but then quickly falls apart before the reader feels any satisfaction. The teenage boys (to whom the book devotes 400 pages to) suddenly age by years every chapter. Suddenly, inexplicably, Joe is a WWII stationed in Antarctica; a story that begins out of nowhere and ends just as it gets interesting. We learn the fate of Sammy's lover (the development of their relationship of which took 100 pages) in one sentence. 12 years suddenly passes and we are introduced to Rosa and Sammy's (nay Joe's) 12-year old son. It seems Chabon has a lot of ideas, and rushes to start one before finishing another. Interesting events do take place, but because they aren't fully fleshed out they seem disconnected and pointless. Another problem is Chabon's own superfluous style. Everything has to be described with long metaphors; sometimes the simplest declaration is drawn out to a page or two, making Amazing Adventures a very long and arduous read. That, coupled with his chunky, clunky storyline, makes this book, weighing in at 656 pages, extremely frustrating. I can see how this book could become popular. In contains a well-researched, nostalgic look at old-school New York life, historical references, and a lot of emotion and romance. The main narrative - two boys creating a superhero to compensate for their physical and political desires - is very appealing. But after finally putting this book down, all I could think of was: 'So?'
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You should read thris book because it is intresting and amazing. This book has some things that i did not like but otherwise you should either read the sample or purchase it. I did not get to read it all but the free sample was good plus you will like the book so plz read it or biy it plz you should do it for yourself and me i think you might like it so get it. If you are 10 or younger this is not a good book for you plus i am a 10 grader and if you like this book then follow your dreams and get it plus i can talk to the writer of this book and tell he of she that you are talking crap and that you hate this bok. So i thin you should buy it you might like it and is you like it send a rateing and thank me for giving you this advise. TOODLES, ANGIE
Andrew_of_Dunedin More than 1 year ago
Don Maclean's “American Pie” told the story of rock, from its roots in the mid-50s until the end of the 1960s. A lot happened in that 15 years, it took longer than the usual pop song to describe it all. Michael Chabon's “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” tells the story of the early days of the comic books, from the early days of World War II (before the US got directly involved) until the mid 1950s. A lot happened in that 15 years, it took longer than the usual novel to describe it all. (Over 600 pages of text – 26 hours when performed on audio book). Except – it's not JUST about comic books. It's about an artist who dabbled in parlor magic and escapes – and was able to use that training to escape Czechoslovakia during the Nazi's reign. It's about a would-be artist who finds his true calling in writing. AND … it's about the legendary Golem, even if the beast's appearance is brief – never lose sight of the fact his shadow falls on much of the action in this book. I definitely enjoyed the aspects of the book that involved comic book history, (enjoying the cameos by some of the field's greats of those days) and the lives of the creators. I thought that time tale of the two's lives during the US involvement in World War II was a bit, um, out there. It just didn't seem to add to the story, and served as a lengthy diversion. (Yes, it affected the two – but it just felt awkward to me.) Overall, this was an incredible investment of my time – but one which I found to be an investment, rather than a waste. Good job, Mr. Chabon. RATING: 5 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A pleasure to read such beautifully woven tapestry of words. Worth it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is written with compassion and is well researched
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Hi Grace wanna chat? *by you-know-who;) *
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting subject, but this book did not hold my interest. It could have been a lot shorter.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Heartbreaking, nostalgic and engaging, this book takes you on a journey through comics history from the perspective of those who were there. The characters are beautifully written and the story sticks with you. One of my favourite novels ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago