I Read About Comic Book Geniuses, Kavalier and Clay

A good book with pages shaped in a heart

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, received the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I recently got around to reading it — and enjoyed every single page! The story is the fictional history of two brilliant innovators in the early days of the golden comic book era.

The book cover of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael ChabonTwo cousins… Sammy Clay is the writer and Joe Kavalier the artist. When they combine their talents… whoosh! From Jewish superheroes to vagabond dads, from young love to lost love, from the Prague Ghetto to the Empire State Building, this novel bears a multi-faceted jewel-of-a-plot.

The book venerates iconic comic book art, of course, while sketching the view of a tremulous American Dream that begins to emerge after World War II. It depicts an age that reveled in heroes… and fearless cigarette smoking.

Chabon’s writing style is vivid, intrepid, and psychologically insightful. You may want to look at Ken Kalfus’ 2000 review, which succinctly delves into the book’s major themes…

…Set in Prague during the Nazi occupation, (the novel) introduce(s) its two interrelated themes: escape and the mystery of the Prague golem, a legendary automaton-giant created from mud by a 16th-century rabbi. For the purposes of the novel, Chabon offers the conceit that the golem actually existed and was hidden in a Prague apartment house, where it awaits the day it will deliver the Jews from their enemies. As the noose tightens around the city’s ghetto, 18-year-old Josef Kavalier makes a daring flight abroad in which he abets the removal of the golem before it can be found by German anthropologists and shipped to a Berlin museum. The inanimate figure is given a new hiding place in Lithuania, but it is recalled repeatedly in the novel, every time one character provides another with the passage to freedom…

READ MORE: The Golem Knows | The New York Times

Yup. It is an imaginative, colorful book — quite like the comics that it celebrates.

Much more could be said about this richly evocative novel. If you’ve read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I’d love for you to share your impressions in the comment section below. Thanks!

The Amazing Adventure of Reading

Published by JoAnn Chateau

Website owner and administrator of “Progressive Graffiti.”

12 thoughts on “I Read About Comic Book Geniuses, Kavalier and Clay

  1. you won’t regret it. That novel washed up from our voluminous book shelves onto my husband’s “to read pile” a few weeks ago, and I felt positively envious – that he had such a great read ahead of him and I didn’t :>(

    but then I ran across the 2nd book in Peter Matthiessen’s trilogy ‘Killing Mr. Watson’ so all ok once again


    1. Thank goodness you got your reading fix, Brenda. ‘Killing Mr. Watson’ also added to my list. A friend says ‘Asymmetry’ by Lisa Halliday is a must-read, new and timely fiction, excellent writer.


  2. It is my single favorite novel and very important to me. It is immensely deep and rich, and the characters are so well drawn you can hear them breathing as you read. Strange as it might sound, it was reading Kavelier and Clay that made me take a Pulitzer Prize for literature seriously instead of the other way around. Up to that point most of my favorite novels had been genre works, though Chabon is the patron saint of recognizing genre fiction as art. Thanks for talking about this book.

    The smoking isn’t presented as something to emulate. It is just an artifact of the time and place being described.


    1. I loved ‘Kavalier and Clay’ too, Melodrama. For many reasons. One was how Chabon depicted the era in which the story took place, which included cigarettes without censor. Just great writing. I didn’t know about Chabon uplifting genre fiction.


      1. Coming out in 2000 Kavelier and Clay is itself like a prophecy of a new age of respectability for superhero media. Any time I talk about this book in a serious way I always come back to the scene of Joe Kavalier resuscitating Salvador Dali after the latter nearly suffocates himself in his diving suit. Allegorically this is superhero comic books rescuing surrealism from its own self-importance/self-indulgences. This is an important statement.

        Chabon’s 2009 essay collection Maps and Legends has several pieces directly arguing the literary importance of various works of genre fiction and is a very worthwhile read. He’s written essays about Sherlock Holmes and wrote a great novella about (probably) Sherlock Holmes. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is both crime noir mystery and an alternate history novel. He has an elaborate pen name, August Van Zorn, who writes Lovecraft-style horror stories, and runs like an easter egg through several Chabon works. Chabon worked on the scripts for Spider-Man 2 and John Carter. Recently Patrick Stewart stated Chabon is part of the writing team for a new Star Trek series focusing on Jean-Luc Picard.

        I could go on and on. He just sits in this perfect nexus of serious literature and weird pop culture.


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