The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Infobox Book
name = The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First edition cover
author = Michael Chabon
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
subject =
genre = Historical Fiction
publisher = Random House
release_date = September 19 2000
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
pages = 639 pp
isbn = ISBN 0679450041
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" is a 2000 novel by American author Michael Chabon that won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001. The novel follows the lives of the title characters, a Czech artist named Joe Kavalier and a Brooklyn-born writer named Sam Clay—both Jewish—before, during, and after World War II. Kavalier and Clay become major figures in the nascent comics industry during its "Golden Age." "Kavalier & Clay" was published to "nearly unanimous praise" and became a "New York Times" Best Seller, [ "Chabon, Michael: INTRODUCTION"] . "Contemporary Literary Criticism". Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 149. Thomson Gale, 2002. 2006. Retrieved on 2007-07-27.] receiving nominations for the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. In 2007, "The New York Review of Books" called the novel Chabon's magnum opus.Leonard, John. [ “Meshuga Alaska”] , The New York Review of Books, 2007-06-14. Retrieved on 2007-07-27.]

The novel's publication was followed by several companion projects, including two short stories published by Chabon that consist of material apparently written for the novel but not included: "The Return of the Amazing Cavalieri" in "McSweeney's Quarterly Concern" (2001), and "Breakfast in the Wreck" in "The Virginia Quarterly Review" (2004). In 2004, a semi-epilogue to the novel was published separately under the title "A Postscript", in "Zap! Pow! Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950". From 2004 to 2006, Dark Horse Comics published two series of "Escapist" comic books based on the superhero stories described in the novel, some of which were written by Chabon.

A film adaptation, to be directed by Stephen Daldry and produced by Scott Rudin, began pre-production in 2001. In the following years, the film was repeatedly canceled and reinitiated, and as of April 2007 the project has stalled.

Plot summary

The novel begins in 1939 with the arrival of Josef Kavalier as a refugee in New York City, where he comes to live with his 17-year-old cousin Sammy Klayman. Besides having a shared interest in drawing, the two are also fans of the Jewish stage magician Harry Houdini, and share several connections to Houdini: Kavalier (like comics legend Jim Steranko) has actually studied escapology, which aided him in his departure from Europe, and Klayman is the son of the Mighty Molecule, a strongman on the vaudeville circuit.

Klayman gets Kavalier a job as an illustrator for a novelty products company which, due to the recent success of Superman, is attempting to get into the comic-book business. Renaming himself Sam Clay, Klayman starts writing adventure stories, and the two recruit several other Brooklyn teenagers to produce "Amazing Midget Radio Comics" (named to promote one of the company's novelty items). The magazine features their character the Escapist, an anti-fascist superhero who combines traits of (among others) Captain America, Harry Houdini, Batman, the Phantom, and the Scarlet Pimpernel; the Escapist becomes tremendously popular, but, as often happens, the writers and artists get a minimal share of the publisher's success. Kavalier and Clay are slow to realize that they are being exploited, as they have private concerns: Kavalier is trying to help his family escape from Nazi-occupied Prague, and has fallen in love with a bohemian girl with her own artistic aspirations, while Clay is exploring a secret homosexual life.

Kavalier, driven by grief over the murder of one family member by the Nazis and the internment of the balance of his family, enlists in the navy, unaware that his would-be fiancée is pregant. He returns from service only to find his cousin and former love a married couple; the remainder of the novel follows the three characters' attempts to reconstitute a family, and to find a new creative direction for comics.

Many events in the novel are based on the lives of actual comic-book creators including Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Joe Simon, Will Eisner, and Jim Steranko. Other historical figures play minor roles, including Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, and Fredric Wertham. The novel's time span roughly mirrors that of the Golden Age of Comics itself, starting from shortly after the debut of Superman and concluding with the Kefauver Senate hearings, two events often used to demarcate the era.


An important aspect of the novel is the prominent role of Jewish writers and artists in not only the comic-book field, but fantasy fiction and American pop culture in general. Besides the pragmatic reasons for this (e.g., many Jewish illustrators ended up working in comic books because they were denied work in more "respectable" fields), Chabon suggests that comics and pulp fiction were crucibles for a uniquely American mythology that allowed outcasts and immigrants to dream of heroism, and that an aspect of Jewish tradition happened to fit well with this mythology; the novel's epigram, from Will Eisner, describes this aspect as "impossible solutions for insoluble problems".

Arguably the most important theme of the novel is that of escapism. The comic book character, "The Escapist", created by Kavalier and Clay, symbolises Joe's escape from Prague and Nazi-occupied Europe as well as Sammy's more metaphorical escape from himself - his polio-stricken body and his later-revealed homosexuality. This idea of escape plays a major role in dictating the actions of the two major characters throughout the book. Interestingly, this theme can also be found in other Jewish literary works that are set in this period, including "Enemies, a Love Story" by Isaac Bashevis Singer and "The Family Markowitz" by Allegra Goodman.

A secondary theme is the idea that in the 1930s, many people wanted a superman who could protect them from an increasingly dangerous world. In Jewish folklore, the Rabbi Maharal of Prague once created a superman, called the Golem to protect the Jewish ghetto from hostile Christians. Who will defend the Jewish people in Europe from the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s? Kavalier and Clay created modern-day Golems protectors in the form of superheroes, just as in reality, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman as a fictional protector of the weak and innocent. The superheroes of Kavalier and Clay smash Nazi armies, defeat Nazi supervillains and help save the world from the late 1930s through till the end of World War II.

Another theme Chabon works with in the novel is the creators themselves being superheroes in their own way. Chabon hints at this in both contextual and symbolic ways with many of the books protagonists sharing similarities with the fictional superheroes. Kavalier, like the Escapist, was an escape artist himself and would even wear a mask while performing. He also joined the navy and even fought his own real life super-villain, the saboteur. Sammy shared a similarity with the Escapist with his disabled leg. Also Sammy's real last name, 'Klayman,' draws parallels between him and the Golem, another major figure in the novel which is literally a man made out of clay. Joe's first attempt at creating a superhero results in him pitching the Golem. He even describes Superman as another type of Golem. Even the characters Tracy Bacon—who plays the Escapist on the radio and bears an uncanny resemblance to him, as well as fighting in World War II—and Rosa Saks—on whom Luna Moth is based—have these literary connections to superheroes. In this way Kavalier and Clay could be seen as Chabon's attempt at the superhero genre.


* U.S.: 2000, Random House, hardcover, ISBN 0-679-45004-1
* U.S.: 2001, Picador, paperback, ISBN 0-312-28299-0

Film adaptation

Producer Scott Rudin, who had worked with Chabon in the early nineties on "The Gentlemen Host", a screenplay that as of 2007 remains unfilmed, bought the screen rights to "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" for Paramount Pictures based on a one-and-a-half page pitch before the novel had been published.cite web |last=Gottlieb |first=Jeff| url = |date = 2002-07-16 | title = TRIP ALONG WRITE PATH: Author struggles for Hollywood ending | publisher = The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. | accessdate = 2007-01-17] (Rudin was involved with the novel so early on that his name appears in the acknowledgements to its first edition.) After the book was published, Rudin hired Chabon to write the screen adaptation. In July 2002, it was reported that the process had taken 16 months and six drafts, none of which pleased the demanding Rudin. "It's like those arcade games where a gopher head pops out", Chabon said at the time. "I fix this and then another head pops out." Rudin explained that his problems with the drafts often derived from scenes in the book he wanted kept in the film and which Chabon, "incredibly unprecious about his work", had cut.

In their 2002 It List, "Entertainment Weekly" declared "Kavalier & Clay" the year's "It Script", publishing a [ short excerpt] from the screenplay. Chabon told the publication, "A lot of things about the book are really a pain in the neck [to adapt] ....The story takes place over this huge span of time. There's an 11-year gap in the middle when we don't see the characters at all. I wrote the first draft of the screenplay from memory, as if there were no novel at all and I were just remembering a story that I had heard.... Much less time passes in the movie than in the book. It's really just the period of the war."cite web | url =,,264473_6,00.html |date = 2002-06-28 | title = IT SCRIPT | publisher = Entertainment Weekly. | accessdate = 2007-02-14] While at that point, the film was in active pre-production (with Sydney Pollack attached to direct and Jude Law in talks to play Kavalier), by late 2004, Chabon had declared the film project "very much dead". [cite web |last=Chabon |first=Michael | url = | title = Chabon: Kavalier Movie Appears "Very Much Dead" | publisher = The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay | accessdate = 2007-01-17]

In November of that same year, though, director Stephen Daldry announced in "The New York Times" that he planned to direct the film "next year." [cite web |last=Hass |first=Nancy | url = |date = 2004-11-07 | title = Scott Rudin's Three Ring Holiday Circus | publisher = The New York Times. | accessdate = 2007-01-17] In January 2005, Chabon posted on his web site that, "about a month ago, there was a very brief buzzing, as of a fruit fly, around the film version of "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay". It was a casting-buzz. It went like this: Tobey Maguire as Sam Clay. Jamie Bell as Joe Kavalier. Natalie Portman as Rosa Saks. It buzzed very seriously for about eleven minutes. Then it went away." [cite web | url = | title = Chabon Spills Casting Rumors | publisher = The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay | accessdate = 2007-01-17]

As of June 2006, Chabon maintained that Portman was still "a strong likelihood for the part of Rosa", and listed a number of important plot points present in the book that would be left out of the movie. The list included the scene between Clay and Tracy Bacon in the ruins of the 1939 World's Fair (though the film will still feature a gay love story), the Long Island scene, and the appearances of Orson Welles and Stan Lee.cite web | url = | title = Natalie Portman in "Kavalier & Clay"? | publisher = | accessdate = 2007-01-17] Chabon added that "whether [this project] will move at last....into really-truly pre-production, with a budget and cast and everything, will be decided on or around 12 July 2006."cite web | url = | title = Natalie Portman in "Kavalier & Clay"? | publisher = | accessdate = 2007-01-17] In August 2006, however, it was reported that the film had "not been greenlit". [cite web |last=Voynar |first=Kim | url = | title = Kavalier and Clay Stalls; Snow a No-Go for Chabon | publisher = | accessdate = 2007-01-18] In April 2007, Chabon added that the project "just completely went south for studio-politics kinds of reasons that I'm not privy to....right now, as far as I know, there's not a lot going on." [Hodler, Timothy. [ Michael Chabon Q & A] , Details Magazine. 2007. Retrieved on 2007-08-15.]


External links

* [ Are Novels Golems?] - essay by Michael Chabon
* [ Interview with Michael Chabon about The Escapist]
* [ Photos of the first edition of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay]
*imdb title|id=0366165|title=The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

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