The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay takes place around New York, beginning in Brooklyn and later moving into NYC. It begins in 1939 and ends in the 1950s. It's difficult to place exactly, as the book sprawls over many different places such as Prague and Alaska, and sometimes shifts back and forth through time to suit the narrative.
“In later years, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier's greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry Houdini.” (Pg. 3) “The long run of Kavalier & Clay - and the true history of the Escapist's birth - began in 1939, toward the end of October.” (Pg. 4)

There are the two main characters, Josef Kavalier and Sam 'Clay' Klayman. After that are their love interests, Rosa Saks and Tracy Bacon. Josef, of Joe, emigrated from Prague to escape Hitler's regime. He was a trained artist, as well as a magician/escape artist. Tall, dark and laid back, Joe's main desire is to bring his family back to the United States so they are safe. To accomplish this, he sets out with Sam and together they create a comic – The Escapist.
He was a pale, freckles boy, black haired, with a nose at once large and squashed-looking, and wide set blue eyes half a candle too animated by sarcasm to pass for dreamy. (Pg. 17) It wasn't the latest diplomatic maneuverings in London and Berlin, or the most recent bit of brutal posturing by Adolf Hitler, that Josef was hoping to get new of. He was looking for an item detailing the condition of the Kavalier family. (Pg. 10) If an airplane were now to land on Twenty-fifth Street and disgorge a dozen bathing-suit-clad Fairies of Democracy come to award him the presidency of General Motors contract with Warner Bros., and a penthouse on Fifth Avenue with a swimming pool in the living room, he would have greeted this, too, with the same dreamlike unsurprise. (Pg. 91) "I can pick the locks," he said. "I was trained to, to what, to get out of things. Boxes. Ropes. Chains." He stood up and pointed to his chest. "Ausbrecher. Outbreaker. No, what it is? 'Escape artist'." Pg. 111 He looked at Sammy right in the eyes, his expression grave and remorseful, as though he were on the verge of making a full confession of everything bad that he had ever done. Then he flashed his visitor's badge, Melvin Purgis style, and he was gone. And that, Sammy knew, was about as close as Joe Kavalier could get to an apology. Pg. 502

Sammy was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York by an overbearing Jewish mother. He wants to escape the confines of his home, and longs to do so with his cousin Joe. Small, Jewish and dark, Sam does not stand out. He dreams of making it big with comics. With his talent in writing, and Joe's in art, he figures they can go far. He is in the closet throughout the entire book, despite falling in love with Tracy Bacon.
He was seventeen when the adventures began: bigmouthed, perhaps not quite as quick on his feet as he liked to imagine, and tending to be, like many optimists, a little excitable. He was not, in any conventional way, handsome. His face was an inverted triangle, brow large, chin pointed, with pouting lips and a blunt, quarrelsome nose. He slouched, and wore clothes badly: he always looked as though he has just been jumped for his lunch money. (Pg. 3) He had delivered the Eagle for most of 1931 in order to afford a set of dumbbells, which he had hefted every morning for the next eight years until his arms, chest and shoulders were ropy and strong; polio had left him with the legs of a delicate boy. He stood, in his socks, five feet five inches tall. (Pg. 4) Sammy considered himself a realist, and in general his escape plans centered around the attainment of fabulous sums of money. (Pg. 7) Had Joe been a young woman, [he] might almost have been inclined to think that Sammy was sweet on her.

Pg. 97

Rosa Saks is a beautiful artist from Greenwich Village. She immediately catches Joe's eye, and serves as his muse as well as friend, often helping the boys out with their comics as an artist. She is small, with crazy brown curls and an odd sense of fashion.
A girl with wild brown ringlets, looking like she was going to cry, came barreling into the stairwell. Pg. 114 He never would have recalled her forehead as so capacious and high, her chin as so delicately pointed. In fact, her face would have seemed overlong were it not counterbalanced by an extravagant flying buttress of a nose. Her rather small lips were set in a bright red hyphen that curved downward just enough at one corner to allow itself to be read as a smirk of amusement. Pg. 257 Rosa was a great girl, soft and powdery smelling. While it was true that he found her remarkably easy to talk to, tease with, confide in, and let down his guard around, easier than he had ever found any other girl, he felt only the faintest itch for her. Pg. 295

Tracy Bacon plays the part of The Escapist in the first radio program made. Tall, blond and muscular, he is the seemingly all-American, always joking and horsing around, with the faintest hints of something deeper within the surface. He is determined to live life to the fullest, and be who he is.
Bacon was such a perfect Escapist that one would have thought he had been cast to play the role in a film, not on the air. He was well over six feet tall, broad-shouldered, with a dimple in his chin and glossy blond hair fitted to the top of his head like a polished brass plate. He wore an oxford shirt unbuttoned over a ribbed undershirt, blue jeans, and socks with no shoes. His muscles were not as large, perhaps, as the Escapists, but they were distinctly visible. Pg. 500 There seemed to emerge, in spite of Bacon's good looks and his actor pals and his cool gin and tonic of a girlfriend, and regardless of the truth of falsehoods of the claims he was making, an unmistakable portrait tat Sammy was surprised to find he recognized: Tracy Bacon was lonely. [...]Bacon was just drunk and twenty one (not twenty four) and making everything up as he went along. Pg. 507 He whirled around, the expression on his face at once innocent and reckless, for all the world like a toddler searching the nursery for something new to break. Pg. 546 “Something like you and me is not a question of choosing or not choosing. There's nothing you can do about it.” Sammy jerked his hand away. Regardless of what he felt for Bacon, it was not worth the danger, the shame, the risk of arrest and approbrium. […] He had no idea of how long his life would one day seem to have gone on; how daily present the absence of love would come to feel. “Just watch me,” he said. Pg. 420

The book begins with Josef Kavalier coming into the Klayman household in the middle of the night. He's just got there from Prague (by way of San Francisco) and needs a way to make money. Sam works as a commercial illustrator for a gag company, but once he sees Joe's work, convinces his boss to publish a comic that the two of them thought up called 'The Escapist'. With the little money they are earning, Joe is set on finding a way to get his parents and little brother Thomas to come and live with him. In the midst of finding out about them, though, he finds out that his father has died. Despite this, the partnership of Kavalier and Clay and their sprawling empire of comics goes on to make them semi-famous and wealthier. The two start to get out more and meet more people. One such person is Rosa Saks – they met at Salvador Dali's party, and her and Joe immediately hit it off. She decided to help him get the ball rolling on getting his brother safe overseas, and the two begin a relationship. Another person is Tracy Bacon, who Sam meets at a radio show adapted from the comic. The two become friends. However, when DC files a lawsuit against Kavalier & Clay's publisher, Sam has to commit perjury to save their comic (and his job). Sam, struggling with this and with is growing attraction to Tracy Bacon, finally gives in, and goes with Bacon to a romantic getaway at a beach. Meanwhile, Joe has been supplementing his income as an artist with gigs as an escape artist at Bar

Mitzvahs around New York. During one such show, and during Sam's trip to the beach, two things happen: One, the police show up and raid the place Sam and Tracy were staying, arresting many but letting Sam off because, Two – Thomas Kavalier dies on the boat ride over. Distraught over this, Sam breaks it off with Tracy and Joe joins the Navy without consulting with Rosa, who just found out she is pregnant. Sam and Rosa try and piece their lives together. A twelve year gap follows, and Sam and Rosa have been living as husband and wife with their (actually Joe and Rosa's) child, Tommy. When Joe suddenly appears back into their lives, Sam decides to leave to go to LA (where he and Bacon had originally planned to move to), leaving Joe with his family and son. Action! Suspense! Romance! In this fictionalized history of the Golden Age of Comics, you'll find it all as you follow writer Sammy Clay and his cousin/partner, Joe Kavalier. Together, they created the world's most famous superhero – The Escapist! As Brooklyn and Prague-born Jews, respectively, the two use their comic as a means of expression, political and otherwise. With Joe's relationship with the artistic Rosa Luxembourg Saks and his fight to bring his family home safe, and Sammy's awakenings to his own identity and how business really works, can the two make it through life in the Big Apple? Read and find out!

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