The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America - the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men.
This is a 600-page tome comprised of beautiful sentences. Chabon's lyrical prose does wonders to build a passage up to something magical. He makes simple gestures or objects sound like artefacts from a whimsical magic show. This is all wonderful for the first half of the novel, and I found myself getting lost in his words. After this point, however, I soon realised their grandeur was only affecting the length of the novel, and having no real impact on the plot. This realisation was like emerging from a gorgeous dream, only to understand you're back in the mundane. It was like noticing how loudly your colleague chews at the lunch table, and being unable from that moment on to notice anything else.
I have a real love of reading about the second world war, particularly from the Jewish perspective. Seeing Joe's escape from Prague, his heart-wrenching farewells to his family, and his subsequent endless battle to allow them to join him in New York, was devastating. His love of magic tricks and Houdini endeared him to me, and I truly loved him as a character. I would have much preferred to spend longer in Prague and learn more of their cultural struggles at this time; much of this was glossed over, and Joe escaped his country fairly quickly, leaving me slightly remorseful. I'd have also liked to see his adaptation to American culture; he seemed to slot in nicely, apart from maybe using a couple of colloquialisms in the wrong context. I'm sure at a time of such religious tension, this wouldn't have been so simple.
It's clear Chabon is a huge comic book fan, and his commentary on the industry in its Golden Age was valuable. To see Kavalier and Clay get totally ripped off by their publishers, as I imagine many did, was heartbreaking, and this was only after seeing the blood that went into the creation of their stories and characters. Their brainstorming ran parallel to the rise of Batman and Superman, and I particularly enjoyed their thought process for the Escapist, and how he could differ from the other main players; the vein of this being Why?. Many don't realise the why is the most important aspect of any plot or character, and I was delighted to see them think through this, and finally come up with the perfect why for their Escapist.
After Joe's feeling from Prague, the creation of the Escapist, and his falling in love with Rosa Saks, the entire novel fell on its face for me. I found it difficult to motivate myself to pick it up, and struggled to understand why this was; I'd been so in love with the plot up until now - why was I so bored? After truly thinking on this, I understand now that Chabon had set up so many huge themes without truly getting into the skeleton of them. The war, the holocaust, homosexuality, and all of the difficulties these things carried in those times, were raised to our attention in the first half, then entirely neglected in the second in favour of gorgeous, yet pointless, sentences. This was a real shame, as it meant I fell out of love with the characters, and out of interest in their fate.
In the end, everything was tied up with a nice shiny bow, however as is apparent in most comic books, the fate of the sidekick remained foggy, despite being the last thread I was truly interested in. I'm glad I experienced the novel, however at 600 pages, I'd have expected something far more epic.