Friday, January 4, 2008


In 1939, 17-year-old Sammy Clayman is forced (in the middle of the night) to give up half his bed to his just-arrived Czech refugee cousin Joe, who, at 19, managed to escape the Nazi crackdown in Prague through a no less than magic. Sammy, who has elaborate plans for fame and fortune as a comic book creator, sees his artist cousin as a ticket to fast-lane success. Joe, who is obsessed with his remaining family who are still stuck in Prague, sees Sammy's plans as a way to the fast dough he thinks will help him bring them to America. Thus the perfect partnership is born.

For lack of a more accurate way to put this... Michael Chabon rocks my world.

I read and loved YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION this summer, and that sponsored a whole flurry of Amazon orders. I stalled with KAVALIER & CLAY because I was initially put off by the length (636 pages looked like a time suck) but I genuinely felt great grief when I got to the end that there weren't another 1000 pages for me to keep reading.

Why do I love Chabon so? His ideas are often extremely original, which certainly helps, but his language is just so very well thought-out and brilliantly executed. Almost every sentence tickles somehow--he puts things in a way you never heard before but, once you read it, you can't understand why everyone doesn't describe the world that way, since it's such an obvious comparison.

Chabon is also and artfully researched author. He is a prize historical recreator: he establishes his lost city down to its temperatures and smells, teaches his audience lost Americana, and yet never beats you over the head with his showy knowledge or bores you with static details.

Despite the high reality of the description and place setting, there is a technicolor dreaminess to the plot that invokes the whole comic book genre. Sammy and Joe are superheroes themselves, with dramatic childhoods, struggles with their inner monsters, and amazing acts of derring-do. Not all readers will find this an unmitigated pro--for me, it occasionally detracted a little, since it made certain pieces of an otherwise sophisticated and well-wrought book emotionally simple. At the same time, I do appreciate the way Chabon designed his execution to reflect his topic, and the overall product affected me deeply.

I know it's easy to fall into the habit of comparing works by the same author (it's almost irresistible!) but I'm going to try really hard to resist here. I liked both of these a lot and would recommend either to anyone.

I did notice one interesting thing, though, having read both. I've been reading Chabon's books in reverse chronological order (not through any planning on my part or anything) and as a result have been able to see his themes in reverse. It seems that in a way Chabon uses each novel as a stomping ground and inspiration for the next novel he ends up working on (Sam Clay asks the detective he meets, Detective Lieber, "So, are they making Jews detectives these days?" and some of Joe Kavalier's collected drawings reminded me sharply of Chabon's descriptions of the "prophet" Elijah in YPU. And this is just the beginning.). So if you haven't read any of Chabon's stuff, you, too, might consider reading in reverse for added enjoyment.


cyn said...

hmm.thanks for the very enthused reveiw, MR! my voracious reader book friend (offlne, alas) recommended the yiddish police book to me. now i am intrigued and will add it to my list of books to read.

angelle said...

i just bought this, so that means i can't read your review at all until i read it. you know my policy. but at least i can see the tag and see that it'll be good :)

Search Engine Optimization said...

Simply super, i like this

web designer