(From the publisher)
1. When we are first introduced to Sammy Klayman, we are told: "Houdini was a hero to little men, city boys, and Jews; Samuel Louis Klayman was all three. 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 slouched, and wore clothes badly: he always looked as though he had just been jumped for his lunch money." Discuss this description. What does this portrayal suggest about growing up in urban America in the late 1930's?
2. What is the appeal of Houdini to Sammy and Joe? How is that appeal common to boys growing up during the depression? To boys of any era?
3. The theme of escape runs throughout the novel. What are Sammy and Joe escaping from? What are they escaping to?
4. Discuss how the following passage draws an analogy between the creation of the Golem and the writing of superhero comics: "Every universe, our own included, begins in conversation. Every golem in the history of the world, from Rabbi Hanina's delectable goat to the river-clay Frankenstein of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, was summoned into existence through language, through murmuring, recital, and kabbalistic chitchat—was literally talked into life. Kavalier and Clay—whose Golem was to be formed of black lines and four-color dots of the lithographer—lay down, lit the first of five dozen cigarettes they were to consume that afternoon, and started to talk."
5. What role does the Golem have in the story? What does the Golem signify? Why did Chabon include this legend in his novel?
6. What is a superhero? Are superhero stories mythological in nature? What is it about the experience of young men that inspires superhero stories?
7. In what ways are the experiences of Joe Kavalier parallel to the events in the Superman myth?
8. After the tragedies at the end of "Part IV: The Golden Age," Rosa is left, quite literally, holding the baby. When we see her next, ten years have passed. What decisions was Rosa forced to make? How does she represent stability and security in the novel? Is she in control of her own destiny, or is she subject to the needs and whims of the men in her life? Is there anything that she is escaping from or to?
9. What is the significance of names and name-changes in the novel? How are names significant in the legend of the Golem?
10. How are Joe Kavalier's life and longings reflected in his fictional hero the Escapist?
11. Sammy has a relationship with an actor named Tracy Bacon. What is the attraction between the two men? How does Tracy-in name and person-represent a forbidden fruit to Sammy?
12. In Part I, Joe was able to escape the encroaching Nazi threat by hiding in a coffin. Having avoided the horrors of the war, why did he enlist in the Navy (Part V)? How was his escape from Czechoslovakia mirrored in his survival at the Antarctic Naval station? In what ways were these two escapes similar? What did Bernard Kornblum represent in each case?
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