In 1939, Josef Kavalier's parents, wishing to keep him safe from persecution against the Jews, arranged for him to travel from Prague to the United States. On arrival in New York City, he met his cousin Sam Klayman and, through both talent and luck, the two young men were able to launch a superhero comic book just at the point when the genre was becoming popular. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is the story of their business partnership and their lifelong friendship.
The book covers a period of some twenty years and is both broad in its scope and deep in its many layers of character and plot. Joe is the most well-developed character in the novel. In Prague he trained as a magician and a Houdini-like escape artist. He is also a very talented artist. However, he is haunted by guilt and other demons. Tormented by leaving his family behind, he tries desperately to rescue them and acts out his anger on Germans he encounters in New York City. He finds love in Rosa Saks, but leaves her behind when, immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he enlists in the Navy to act out his need for revenge on the Germans.
Sam Klayman's character is somewhat less developed, but still appealing. Abandoned by his father and devoted to his mother, it is Sam who spots Joe's artistic talent and persuades his boss to launch a comic book featuring a character known as The Escapist. Sam is largely unaware of his sexual identity, and one of the more touching scenes involves both emerging awareness of his homosexuality, and his realization that society would not accept him if this were known. Sam proves himself a true friend when he sacrifices his own happiness in a selfless act for another person.
Despite its length, this book was an easy and fun read. In addition to the well-drawn characters, the book offers up historical detail concerning the comic book industry, the Empire State Building, World War II, and post-war New York City. It's easy to see why this book won the Pulitzer Prize. ( )