Since graduation, I’ve had more time on my hands. So, I’ve finally started reading for pleasure again. Yesterday I finally finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a novel by Michael Chabon. The two main character, Sammy Clay and Joe Kavalier, are cousins, living in New York City. They are also Jewish. This is important, since Joe has just escaped from Prague, Czechoslovakia, during the Second World War. Sammy is charged with getting Joe a job, so Joe can save up money and bring the rest of his family to America. Joe is a skilled artist, and Sammy a talented writer. They eventually go into the comic book business together. Of course, I should have mentioned that I borrowed this book from Daniel. Spoilers to follow.
The novel follows them over the course of approximately 15 years, from beginning in 1939 and ending in 1954. Joe’s entire motivation is to get his family out of Europe, knowing what the Nazis are doing. He saves up thousands of dollars. Along the way, he gets distracted by a girl named Rosa Saks. As he is falling in love with Rosa, he begins to feel survivor’s guilt after members of his family begin to die. First his father, then his brother, and finally his mother and grandfather. The real tipping point for Joe comes after his brother’s death. After paying for his brother’s passage to America, his brother drowns on a boat that was sunk by a German U-Boat. Joe blames himself, and enlists in the navy, hoping to enact some kind of revenge on the Germans. Unfortunately, he is assigned to Antarctica. The other men with which he is serving all die one night when their stove was not properly ventilated, and they all asphyxiate from carbon monoxide poisoning. Joe and one other man survive, since they were sleeping elsewhere. This is hardly the type of war Joe imagined he would be fighting.
Upon his return to America, Rosa and Sammy anxiously wait to greet him as he exits the boat. Only…he never gets off the boat. For the next 10 or 11 years, they never hear from Joe. By this time, Sammy and Rosa have married to conceal the fact that Joe had impregnated Rosa right before he left for the war. Rosa planned to tell Joe about the baby the night that Joe found out about his brother. After she heard what had happened and that he had left for the war, she knew Joe could never know. So Sammy agreed to marry her and raise the child, named Tommy after Joe’s deceased brother. But one day, Tommy spots “cousin” Joe in the back of a magic shop. Tommy recognized him from old photos that his parents had. They begin to meet regularly, with Tommy skipping school, and Joe living illegally in the Empire State Building. He had been living there for nearly the entire 11 years he was missing. Joe had figured out that Tommy was his son, but continued to keep it concealed from Tommy. After Tommy finally reveals to Sammy where Joe has been living, Joe moves in with Sammy and Rosa. He and Rosa almost instantly rekindle their love. One afternoon, Tommy discovers some old photographs of Rosa and Joe. For quite some time, Tommy had suspected that Sammy was not his real father, but didn’t know who was. He then overhears Rosa and Joe talking and realizes that Joe is his father.
The book ends with Sammy moving out of the house, leaving Joe, Rosa, and Tommy to be a true family.
Despite my spoiler warning, I’ve hardly touched on the intricacies of the story and characters or Michael Chabon’s phenomenal writing style. I highly recommend reading this book. But don’t take it from me. After all, it only won the Pulitzer Prize.
Tagged: comic books, comics, czechoslovakia, empire state building, germans, jews and comic books, michael chabon, nazis, new york city, nyc, prague, pulitzer prize, the amazing adventures of kavalier and clay, world war ii