July 9, 2013

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

by Michael Chabon

Unlike other readers who are not exactly fond of chunksters or doorstopper books because of their supposedly intimidating length (and so prefer not to have anything to do with them), I don’t have a problem with reading thick books. Nor am I intimidated by them. Yes, they will require double (or perhaps even triple) the time you would spend reading your usual three- to four-hundred-page novel, but I view it as doubling (tripling?) the fun of reading. When you’re fortunate enough to have picked a really good one, like The Pillars of the Earth or Gone With The Wind or any installment in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, then all that time spent reading will definitely be worth your while.

Digital and trade paperback editions.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is one such chunkster. I will be candid enough and say that I would not have read this had it not been chosen as the book club’s book of the month for June. I haven't touched this Pulitzer-winning novel not because of its length but rather, because the book and its author haven’t piqued my interest at all. I was up for the challenge, though, and when I found that the story of the main protagonists, Josef “Joe” Kavalier and Sammy Clay, was mounted upon the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews in Europe – a period in history I have always been interested in – I thought I’d give it a chance.

The plot and storyline were fascinating; Joe, a Jew from Prague, escapes to the United States and settles in with his cousin Sammy and aunt in New York. Because he needed money to send for the rest of his family who were left in Nazi-infested Prague, he collaborates with Sammy in writing and illustrating a series of comic books published by Empire. The superhero they would call The Escapist is the cousins’ brainchild, the symbol of every individual who wished to escape from something – most of all Joe and Sammy.





To reiterate, the plot was interesting. Unfortunately, the writing exhausted me, nearly diluting the book’s initial appeal. Sentences and paragraphs ran on and on and over themselves; to be blunt, it was a struggle to read. Still, I plowed on and ignored this niggling fact as I was reading the first half, which rewarded me somehow as it proved to be the highlight of the novel. The second half, however, dragged on, and it felt like an eternity before I was able to get through it. Was all that chatter really necessary to establish the plight of the characters in the end?

To its credit, however, the novel was replete with symbolisms and metaphors that are relevant even today, decades after the novel’s setting during the flourishing era of the comic books and the dreadful period of the Holocaust. There was Sammy’s attempt to escape from the prejudice against homosexuals. There were Joe’s efforts to save his family and escape from religious and political persecution. Interspersed with the magic of comics and the exploits of fictional superheroes, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay proved to be a worthwhile read – just ignore the writing.

F2F18 at Mondo Juice + SIP, Makati City

Book Details: Digital edition c/o Aldrin (thanks!); pre-loved trade paperback from Jas of Avalon
Rating ★★★

6 comments:

angus25 said...

Now that everyone has mentioned it, it dawns on me that it really is too long to drive to its point. I remember the good feelings when I read the book and I wasn't that bothered with the length. Probably I was on a reading streak then, and it was one of the books that followed after I finished the diabolic 2666.

Monique said...

BUDDY: I didn't mind its length; what I did mind was the writing. But I guess, because of the horrible writing, it inevitably had an effect on the length.

Louize Gonzales said...

I have to agree. The plot was good, even Chabon's writing and prose were not that difficult to get into, but there were droning stuffs in this book that bored the soul out of me.

If I wasn't charmed by Sammy and his affairs, and the fact that I have an upcoming buddy reading date then, I might have lagged altogether.

Monique said...

MOMMY LOUIZE: Chabon went on and on and on... :'(

Peter S. said...

Oh, I actually enjoyed this book! In fact, I was thinking of joining you guys for this discussion. Unfortunately, the date coincided with a Flipper discussion.

Monique said...

PETER: I do hope one of these days we'll see you at a TFG discussion. The problem is, we almost always have the same date for our meet-ups. :(