The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Chabon, Michael (2000). New York: Random House. ISBN-10: 0312282990/ISBN-13: 978-0312282998

This extraordinary book tells the story of two Jewish cousins, Sam Klayman and Josef Kavalier. Josef flees wartime Prague hidden in the coffin with a golem, and makes his way to New York where he moves in with the Klaymans. Through Sam’s job at a novelty company, Josef, a skilled artist, and Sam, a glib storyteller, get involved with the comic book movement in its earliest years, just after Superman is introduced. They create a successful character, The Escapist, who battles fascism. Josef meets Rosa, a Greenwich vllage artist, and works to help his family escape from Prague, while Sam confronts his homosexuality and both realize their work is being exploited. They have an amazing office in the Empire State Building, which enriches the comic book milieu with deco significance. Heartrending tragedy befalls Josef, and he joins the Navy to fight fascism. The narrative carries on into the postwar years, when Josef returns from war and obscurity and must repair his life.

Reader’s Annotation
The early days of the comic book industry, anchored in the deco Empire State building, are the setting for this story of two Jewish cousins, one a Czech refugee who has left his whole family behind, the other a New York novelty salesman. The great events of the era, and some of the real people, are entangled with their lives.

Teachers made a list at school for possible new additions to the curriculum; I recently re-read this book for that consideration. Michael Chabon is an artist.
The language and the story are both rich and nimble. The characters are so vividly drawn it’s as if we know them. The descriptions of the Empire State Building gave mythic status not only to the monument but to the entire deco era of the comic book’s beginnings. Though the book is rich and multi-layered, its devices—the golem, the Escapist, New York —are accessible and fascinating. Sadly, there are concerns that the gay story line will make the book too controversial to use in our classrooms, but for a library, this is a perfect crossover book for the sophisticated teen reader.

About the author
Michael Chabon grew up in one of the earliest manufactured communities, in Maryland. He was obsessed with comics, mythology, and popular culture. He nows lives with his family in Berkeley, CA. His wife is not popular with the clerks in nearby businesses.

Literary fiction

Curriculum Ties
Private schools are using it in English; public schools fear the gay content.

Booktalking Ideas
All the characters who are The Escapist
The Legend of the Golem
Early Comics

Reading Level/Interest Age

Challenge Issues
Gay content; occasional profanity

Be knowledgeable about the book and prepared to discuss it calmly. Provide complaint form per board policy; Share reviews listed on Amazon:

Pulitzer Prize

Why Included?
Curriculum Selction Committee list for high school

Selection Tools
Pulitzer Prize list / National Book Critics Circle Award list , Pen/Faulkner Award

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