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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Narrated by: David Colacci
Length: 26 hrs and 20 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (3,891 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2001

It's 1939, in New York City. Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdiniesque escape, has just pulled off his greatest feat: smuggling himself out of Hitler's Prague. He's looking to make big money, fast, so that he can bring his family to freedom. His cousin, Brooklyn's own Sammy Clay, is looking for a partner in creating the heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit the American dreamscape: the comic book.

Inspired by their own fantasies, fears, and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and the otherworldly Mistress of the Night, Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. The golden age of comic books has begun, even as the shadow of Hitler falls across Europe.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a stunning novel of endless comic invention and unforgettable characters, written in the exhilarating prose that has led critics to compare Michael Chabon to Cheever and Nabokov. In Joe Kavalier, Chabon has created a hero for the century.

©2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc. (P)2000 Michael Chabon

Critic Reviews

"Michael Chabon can write like a magical spider, effortlessly spinning out elaborate webs of words that ensnare the reader with their beauty and their style." (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 06-12-12

A World I DON'T Ever Want to Escape From.

Let's just get this out in the open -- Michael Chabon is an amazing prose stylist. Occassionally, I imagine I can grow up one day and become a writer, then I read Chabon and I recognize just how HIGH that hill can be. His dexterity with the English language borders on magical. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is at once playful and soulful.

Listening to AAoK&C, I was reminded of Saul Bellow's ability to dance with language while also keeping the novel briskly centered on its well-paced story. Chabon's characters are boyantly alive, cinemagraphiclly painted, and infused a with dialogue that seems to require a high level of stereophonics (all enhanced by Colacci's amazing reading).

Even in comic books, good doesn't always win over evil, but it seems like with Chabon love still conquers all. A fantastic novel to view the 20th century through. Chabon expertly captured the colors, smells, and magic of New York. Anyway, Kavalier & Clay is a world I don't ever want to escape from.

102 of 105 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Dave
  • Whittier, CA, United States
  • 07-11-12

Escape From Reality is a Worthy Challenge

At Last! Because You Demanded It! An Unabridged Recording!

Ahem.

It's been several weeks since I finished listening to Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," and I'm starting to think it's one of the best books I've ever read/heard. I read it when it first came out, and enjoyed it. But when the unabridged recording came out I knew I had to grab it, and give it a listen. I am so glad I did. And it was one of those listening experiences when you realize that a book is even better than you already thought it was.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay's an incredible story about two Jewish kids prior to the U.S.'s involvement in WW II - one an immigrant, the other an American - who create a comic book hero that's a perfect and pure meditation on escapism: The Escapist! The novel itself is an epic story full of love, loss, friendship, creativity, and most of all: the human need for escapism.

Chabon's prose is spectacular, painting the setting and the characters better than a splash page. David Colacci's reading is no less spectacular, he was able to expertly give voice to all the characters - Sammy, Joe, Rosa, George Deasey, Tracy Bacon, and Thomas - they all sound exactly the way they should.

According to Chabon's story, Escapism is just as necessary for humans as love. It can be thrilling, sexy, healing, comforting, and transformative. It can make us better people.

Toward the end of the story, Sammy stares at another character's art work and says, “It makes me want to make something again. Something I can be just a little bit proud of.”

That about sums it all up for me. Listening to this book made me laugh, got me all choked up, and left me wanting to create art for as long as possible.

65 of 67 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Superb, Original and BAM!

This is a wonderful story perfectly read. I would say no more but would fail to meet the Audible review requirements!

There is some real history here---read also The Ten Cent Plague---wrapped around the stories of two cousins. The stories are tragic but not overly depressing. The author somewhat gets us to a happy place by the end---not a perfect story book ending but that would demean some of the serious points this book makes. I love books that build compassion for people.

I have around 1500 audio books in my library. When I finish something really, really good, it can be insanely difficult to start, or rather get into, a new book. If you find yourself in that position, here you go! I had to listen to the first half hour a couple of times and then I was completely hooked.

Highly recommend.

Chris Reich

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Michael Chabon's magnum opus.

If you only read one book by Michael Chabon, this should be it. And, fortunately, David Colacci reads it, with his typical skill and verve. The book might be called over-written. Many of Chabon's books are like that. The story, however, is a remarkable one. Josef Kavalier escapes from Prague to eventually land in New York City during the early 1940s. He is welcomed by his cousin, Sam Klay, and the two young men rise to the very top of the world of comic books. Their hero, the Escapist, is a superman-like hero who is always escaping from Nazi-like traps and then returning to beat the Nazi-like guys to bloody pulps. The story of the personal lives of Kavalier and Klay is told in great detail. The book is extremely carefully researched. The ambience of New York City during this period is lovingly recreated by Chabon. There are a number of remarkable scenes. Kavalier has studied the great Houdini (whose real name was Erich Weiss) and has become an escape artist himself. He is also a magician and a clever entertainer. The book goes on perhaps too long, but if you are truly entertained, then Chabon and Colacci have done yeoman's work. The scenes of Kavalier's stretch in the Navy at a base in Antarctica are particularly memorable and heroic. Chabon's writing style is an acquired taste for many, but this is exactly the sort of thing for those who like this sort of thing.

35 of 40 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Well Written, But Not My Favorite

I really had no idea what The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was about when I started listening. It had been on my "wish list" list for quite awhile and I just randomly decided to grab it. I can't help but think that a three star review seems awfully negative, but, really, I liked the novel; I just didn't love it.

Michael Chabon's work is undeniably well written. The characters are incredibly realistic, as is the setting. If I didn't know any better, I would believe that Chabon grew up in New York City in the 1940s. He must have done an incredible amount of research to pull off the setting so convincingly.

Perhaps because the audiobook was split up into three files, the novel felt to me like it had three acts. The first act was really an introduction to the characters and their business endeavors, the second act was largely a love story, and the third was the war and beyond. I could elaborate, but I'll refrain to avoid spoilers.

I really liked the first act. It was really interesting to see how Sammy and Joe take part in the birth of superhero comics, and The Escapist was frankly awesome. I also largely enjoyed the second act. I found Rosa to be interesting, quirky, and a wonderful compliment to the existing cast of characters.

My biggest issue was the third act. I just didn't enjoy it very much. I understand why Chabon chose for the story to go the way it did, but it started to wear on me and finishing the story became a bit of a slog, especially because the conclusion was both expected and inevitable, but not particularly satisfying.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel, especially the parts about The Escapist, but it wasn't my favorite and I wouldn't recommend it to just anyone. I think this one takes more of a patient reader than some of the novels that I tend to like.

27 of 31 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

I feel like I should have loved it, but...

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I might. I know for good reason a lot of people that are not me really love this book. I am a BA, MA English graduate and I feel slightly guilty for not enjoying it more than I did. It's certainly well-written and the characters well crafted. I personally, though, just never really fell in love with the book. I found myself anxious for the book to be over so I could start reading something else. There were bits and pieces that moved me and I will always remember, but I can't say that for the book as a whole.

26 of 30 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 10-22-12

Favorite Chabon novel so far, despite “meh” ending

I’ve read a couple of Michael Chabon’s other books and have found him to be a writer I like a lot, but have never been totally enamored with. His prose reminds me of a certain type I sometimes meet at parties in the city: stylish, insightful, full of savoir faire, but trying just a little too hard to impress, and maybe not as original as he wants to be.

Still, if there was ever a novel that plays to an author’s descriptive flair and love for homage, it would be the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Through mannered but flip character study, Chabon hones in on the energies passing through pre-war New York City, as experienced by two young artists intent on making their mark in the dawning Golden Era of Comic Books, and later, the doldrums of 1950s suburbia and a stagnating industry. One of his protagonists, Joe Kavalier, is a young Jew from Czechoslovakia, trained in the arts of escape (think Harry Houdini), the other, Sammy Klayman, is a young Jew from Brooklyn, with aspirations of being a novelist. One worries about his family back in Europe, the other struggles with his sexuality, alternating between cautious acceptance and the socially-prescribed denial of the era. As with other Chabon novels, there are broad “Jewish” themes of exile, suffering, and redemption, which make an interesting subtext.

To me, the joy of this novel is the inventiveness with which Chabon has his heroes playing out their psyches and backstories on the nine-paneled page, as they struggle with guilt, a sense of identity, love, friendship, and failure. His ability to evoke the imagery of classic comics in prose is impressive, and reminds us of the ineffable power that visuals hold over both creator and devotee, even hampered by the stilted “sock! bam! pow!” conventions of the early days. A less graceful writer might have stamped out an empty nostalgia trip, but Chabon, in celebrating the earnest constructive spirit of young men in a new field of expression, crafts an ecstatic secret history of one rapidly evolving. It’s not often that words are worth a thousand pictures.

Well, for the first third of the book, anyway. Once the young duo achieves its meteoric rise and begins settling into comfortable lives of regular paychecks and predictable comforts, the novel begins to sag and its character studies to feel a little superficial and plodding (but impeccably written). Luckily, an engaging interlude involving a little known-theater of World War Two shakes things up for a while at the two-thirds mark (though it’s largely superfluous to the main story, and felt like Chabon just needed the writerly equivalent of an excuse to get out of the building and run around for a bit). After that, the story returns to 1950s suburbia, a dull marriage, a McCarthy-esque harassment of comic book writers, and a resolution that I found surprisingly banal. Does Chabon just not know how to end books well? I had a similar problem with the Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

Yet, as with that book, I liked the imagination and joyous construction of a place in time on display in the first half of The Amazing Adventures so much, I still think it’s worth your consideration. The audiobook might even be an improvement over the print version, with Joe and Sammy’s distinct accents brought to life, along with those of several other characters. Probably my favorite of Michael Chabon’s novels thus far.

20 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Wayne
  • Matthews, NC
  • 12-05-15

Amazing indeed!!

Having started routinely writing reviews of books I listen to recently, I've been looking back through my 900+ book Audible library for some of the very best, and a few of the worst, books to which I have listened. I listened to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay two years ago. It remains one of my favorite novels although it is not of my favorite mystery/thriller genre.

The novel is set in the US during the WWII time frame beginning inn 1939. Kavalier, recently arrived in the US from a portion of Europe controlled by Nazi Germany, is the cousin of Clay. Both are in their late teens and they live in the house of Cay's mother as the book begins.

In this wonderful and inspiring, and sometimes funny, historical fiction novel the two talented cousins invent the modern comic book.

The narration is perfect.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay falls into the must-read category.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Dubi
  • New York, NY
  • 04-28-14

Kavalier & Clay, Meet Strunk & White

Kavalier & Clay needs an editor. No, not an editor -- a chainsaw. See, I've already suggested a nice little edit that would cut the word count by more than half -- of the title, at least. For I will not use the title words that precede the names Kavalier & Clay, as they are neither amazing nor adventurous.Trivial is my adjective for the adventures of K&C. To wit:

Joe escapes Nazi Europe on the eve of the Holocaust and becomes a successful (and wealthy) comic book artist almost immediately upon his arrival in Brooklyn. He almost as quickly finds true love. He suffers a single tragedy during the ensuing war years (not trivial, but compared to millions of other Holocaust and war experiences?). He escapes the worst of the war despite a difficult experience in Antarctica. Yet he goes off the deep end as a result before coming back to his senses.

Maybe if Michael Chabon had applied the principles of Strunk & White to Kavalier & Clay, we would have ended up with a readable classic rather than interminable bore. "Omit needless words," S&W advise. "Make every word tell." Instead, Chabon wants to show off, leaving his story and characters behind as collateral damage. After 26-plus hours, I could write a treatise nearly as long full of examples of how he overblows what may have otherwise been a lively novel of average length. But I will limit myself to just one (in a world where K&C has received nearly universal praise and a Pulitzer Prize, I'm part of a tiny minority of puzzled, worn-out readers).

Amid the ruins of the 1939 World's Fair, Chabon's omniscient narrator explains Sammy Clay's emotions: "It made him sad, not because he saw some instructive allegory or harsh sermon ... but because ... he had known all along that like childhood, the Fair was over..." I could have reduced that excerpt to even less than those 28 words, but Chabon uses 96 -- 96 words for a sentence that starts with "It" (after an 84-word sentence that starts with "It" and a 104-word sentence with 16 commas).

Chabon spews forth this vomitus to tell us not to look for any metaphors in the ruins of the fair beyond the simple (even trite) childhood's end. He tells this to us, the readers -- Sammy himself, the narrator says within that run-on sentence, is "too young to have such inklings." And he doesn't even get it right -- "like childhood, the Fair was over." No! Sammy isn't epiphianic because the fair is over, he is saddened by the realization that his childhood is past.

Yes, I counted the words. Insert punch line here. Or just punch me. But Chabon clearly did not count. Draft and revise. Draft and revise. My 8th grader is forced to draft and revise. Chabon never re-read this passage after he wrote it (and hundreds like it). If he had, he'd have asked himself, why am I instructing the reader how to interpret my metaphor? Either I tell them directly what I want them to take away from it ("Sammy was sad because he realized his childhood, like the fair, was over") or I let them draw their own conclusions ("Sammy was too young to have such inklings").

Or maybe he did re-read it and found it wanting for nothing. This is his first draft, and it was just perfect. How did the Pulitzer committee miss this? Were the characterizations and story lines and symbols so compelling? I find the characters two-dimensional at best, mostly one dimensional cardboard cutouts, the story lines banal, the metaphors pedestrian. Is the comic book simplicity its very charm? Perhaps, but I stopped reading comic books 45 years ago and turned to literature to get more out of my characters and plots and themes and metaphors.

I realize I'm a minority of one, but Kavalier & Clay is packed wall to wall with this type of writing, gratuitous and dull at best, infuriating and downright bad at worst.

I've had this book on my shelf for ten years, always intending to read it but never quite pulling the trigger (and I read dozens of book a year, so I've pulled a few hundred other titles off the shelf, and now into my Audible app, in the intervening years). When I had the chance to get it in audio, I was excited -- whatever was stopping me from reading it (probably the number 636, the page count) was absent when I thought of listening while walking the dog and driving my car (even at 26 hours).

But then, at 2 hours, I started to think of stopping. Then again at 4, 6, 10 hours. All that praise, that prize -- there must be more to this, I gotta stick it through! Even at 15 hours, well past the halfway point, I considered stopping, convinced there would never be a payoff. I slugged it out, thanks in part to one excellent section (Antarctica, though it really is a standalone short story and naggingly problematic within its larger context of World War II and the Holocaust).

So that other Michael Chabon book that is sitting on my shelf -- nah, I'm not going to be reading or listening to that any time soon, or ever. Even if it is only two-thirds the length.

The sections relating the contents of K&C's comics were, head-scratchingly, relayed with little visual flair, especially curious since Kavalier, the more creative member of the duo (and the more interesting character) was the artist. I cannot fathom the whole Luna Moth thing -- Chabon keeps dropping moth references ("the moth light" ???) through this section, then totally abandons the conceit without ever completing the metaphor.

Then there is the chapter where K&C argue at long length with their bosses for a better deal. No matter the outcome, that could have been a paragraph, maybe a page, but not a chapter. Yet it is rendered completely pointless when it is resolved by deus ex machina -- having been hemmed into a choice between money or artistic control, the sudden unforeseen emergence of a lawsuit allows them have their cake and eat it too. Even more curiously, the moral dilemma of having to commit a minor crime to realize that result is left completely unexplored. Indeed, Chabon often drones on through long passages in long chapters with unnecessary material only to end with an abrupt one-liner that is sometimes never explored in any depth, even though that becomes the very heart of the matter.

Sammy, meanwhile, despite co-billing with Joe in the title and in life, is really the sidekick he always wanted to be. His biggest trial in life is handled artlessly, despite the back-to-back-to-back run-on sentences in the hundred-word range that are used to circle the issue without ever really getting serious about it. I'd like to back this up with examples, but that is impossible without major spoilers -- suffice it to say that when Sammy harks back to scientist Nikola Tesla in one section or to Batman in a later section, he comes off as improbably clueless.

No, not Sammy -- Michael Chabon. Clueless. As am I -- clueless as to how this book has been so revered and rewarded.

11 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Even Narrator's Need an Editor

What made the experience of listening to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay the most enjoyable?

This is a fantastic story, with amazing characters about whom you really care.

What did you like best about this story?

The characters.

What three words best describe David Colacci’s performance?

Can't do accents.

If you could take any character from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay out to dinner, who would it be and why?

Joe Kavalier.

Any additional comments?

I've been listening to audiobooks for a few months now and truly love them. They make my commute more than bearable and my "reading" has increased enormously. THAT SAID... do the people who make these books just put the narrators in front of a microphone and leave the room? Does nobody check how the "hard words" or foreign expressions are actually pronounced? Could audible not find a narrator who knew maybe even, would it be so hard to find, a little bit of Yiddish? And could this narrator fellow, this David Colacci, not have done maybe a little bit of research to distinguish the differences among German, Czech and Russian accents? Would that have killed somebody? Would that be so terrible?

Bubbe, when referring to a Jewish grandmother is pronounced Buh-bee. "My [buh-bee] makes great brisket." Bubbie -- sometimes also spelled bubbe -- is a shortened form of bubeleh. It is what your Jewish grandmother might call you when she pinches your cheek. It is hard to parse out phonetically in English, but the "u" is pronounced like the sound following the "c" in the word, could. So, using "oul" to represent that sound, that word is pronounced boul-bee. Funny one word means grandmother, and the other is usually used in reference to a child.

The mixing up of these two terms by the narrator drove me nuts. That nobody in the chain of listeners before this audiobook went public didn't know or didn't care makes me meshuge. The grandmother should have been buh-bee, not boul-bee. If it happened once, ok. But multiple times? Oye! Not good. In short he was referring to the grandmother using a term meant for a child.

The Czech accent is a beautiful one... think of the Hungarian accent of the Gabor sisters; it sounds like that. The narrator of this book decided that all Czechs sound like Russians, something akin to having someone with a French accent sound like they're from the United States.

35 of 46 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Karen
  • 04-13-13

Entertaining and deeply moving

I love this book for the wonderful characters, richly-textured plot and the themes that develop in surprising ways throughout the book. The first time I read it I missed it terribly when it was over and became very cranky because I couldn't stand not having it in my life. I re-read it after 3 weeks. Since then, I've re-read parts of it numberless times and enjoy reading certain sections aloud to my friends. The audiobook is terrific. The variety of characters all sound authentic and it is in every way an experience that lives up to the quality of writing.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • mermaeve
  • 01-06-17

One of the best books I have ever read

Any additional comments?

The scope of the story the timeline and the craft going into the people who populate this book is amazing

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • David
  • 09-14-16

great!

Loved the book when I read it, this is a great audio book too - narration is spot on. An amazing adventure indeed.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Trevell
  • 08-23-16

Why did I come so late to this?

What made the experience of listening to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay the most enjoyable?

The whole place and time, New York 1939-53 comes fresh through this book,so near and yet so far and strange. It's a comic book evocation of a world we almost know.

What did you like best about this story?

The Prague Jews of the book are my family, and this might have been my world if my mother hadn't landed up in the UK instead of the US. But the awful parts of the book, the concentration camps and German occupation of Prague are both tragic and bearable.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Not possible to listen to this enormous book at one sitting, but such fun, so exciting to go from cliff-hanger to cliff -hanger.

Any additional comments?

I wouldn't have the time to sit and read it, and so invest it with my own voice, which was a small sorrow, given how important to me the book turned out to be. But given that, I absolutely adored David Colacci's reading and it's done now. This reading is an essential part of the book to me.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Lesleyboyd
  • 07-22-15

Great story - both moving and funny

I didn't like the look of the title and it was only through reading reviews that I gave it a go. Really glad I did. It is a super story, unusual, moving and funny. I like longer books and especially those that don't repeat themselves but keep the pace flowing - this is one of those. Interesting the unabridged is cheaper than the shorter abridged! Give it a go i'm sure you won't be disappointed.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Brixtonian
  • 06-25-15

I miss them

Finding a life affirming story from the holocaust Chabon gives us characters to love and admire. The end of the book leaves you missing them and wanting to know what happens next. Not bad for a book this long. It keeps you hooked. Sometimes laughing out loud sometimes deeply sorrowful.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Dee Richardson
  • 03-09-19

A fantastic listen

This has quickly become one of my favourite books. Well written. Well read.
A story of 2 cousins who design comic heroes in the grand days of the comic book with the strong themes of anti Semitic and world war 2
A must read

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Angela
  • 03-05-19

Fantastic

Wonderful characters, place, ideas, themes, humour, emotion, beautiful, inspiring, good sets of lists, funny and sad and human.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Catherine
  • 09-22-18

sweet book (in a good way)

I know little of any of the worlds that coincide in this book (Jewish lore, history of comics, 1940s America) but thank whoever recommended this engrossing book to me (sorry Ive forgotten the trail that led me there). The author plays us so skillfully and the narrator is excellent.
Its so rare that I find nobody to dislike in a long book - I was gunning for all of them.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Anonymous User
  • 08-30-18

for fans of comics and/or history and/or drama

Well fleshed out characters, great settings, setups and structuring of events. So much rich history here, geopolitical, cultural and socio-economic as well as comic book industry detail and sentiment.