The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)

by Michael Chabon

The golden age of the comic book in the United States coincided with the Holocaust in Europe. In the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon weaves the two together through the experiences of Joe Kavalier, a native of Prague who escapes the Nazis and ends up in New York with his cousin, Sam Clay (née Klayman). Discovering a common interest, as well as Joe's talent for drawing and Sam's for weaving a plot, the young Jewish men create the comic book superhero The Escapist, whose purpose is to liberate the world's oppressed people from Hitler-resembling tyrants. Simultaneously, Joe is attempting to get his parents, grandfather, and cherished younger brother out of Czechoslovakia. That effort brings him together with a young artist, Rosa Saks, who will become the love of his life.

One doesn't have to be a comics aficionado to enjoy this book. Joe's struggle to save his family is suspenseful and moving. The relationships between the three central characters — Joe and Sam, Joe and Rosa, Rosa and Sam — are well developed. But it's Chabon's well-researched history of the comic book that's probably the biggest draw, especially for those who love pop culture. Many of the events in the novel are based on the lives of actual comic book creators. 

Toward the end of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a Congressional committee is investigating the industry's supposedly negative influence on young minds. Joe thinks that the critics are wrong in considering the  desire to escape "a pernicious effect": "As if," he muses, "there could be any more noble or necessary service in life."


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