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A Moment in the Sun Hardcover – May 17, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews



"[A Moment in the Sun's] true importance lies not in its rearview relevance but in its commitment to recalling in heroic detail a little-known and contradictory historical moment, a sunny time of American pride but also of hubris in sun-beaten locales… Sayles is not a neutral channel, but in his respect for facts both documented and extrapolated, he is devoted to offering us a new understanding of the past."
—Tom LeClair, New York Times Book Review

"A brutal picaresque complete with melancholy whores, militaristic robber barons, desperate cutthroat prospectors, and puppet soldiers... His period slang rings dead-on perfect. [Sayles's] great achievement is to illuminate the parallel between imperialism and racism in turn-of-the-century America—indeed, to shine so glaring a light on it that even if we screw our eyes shut, the horror remains."
—William T. Vollmann, Bookforum

“Independent filmmaker John Sayles has managed to create a work that is both cinematic and literary in its scope and style—a blend so entrancing that you could polish off its 955 pages in one long weekend. It begins in 1897 during the Yukon gold rush and takes us into the Spanish-American war, the Filipino fight for independence, racial injustice and the plight of working people throughout the United States. Short, powerful chapters follow four unconnected characters to create a mosaic of America as a nascent superpower, underscoring the personal and cultural consequences of its ambitions. If you only read one book this summer, make it A Moment in the Sun.”
—Lucia Silva, NPR’s Morning Edition

“Following four major characters and dozens of sharply drawn smaller ones, Moment jumps from a horse thief’s prison break to a Filipino revolutionary secretly photographing a government execution, creating a story so big that even the larger-than-life characters that Sayles weaves into his narrative are dwarfed by comparison. Pick up McSweeney’s gorgeous mock-leather-and-gilt tome—taking care to lift with your knees—and you’ll find that the 950-page book moves far more quickly than its bulk might suggest.”
—Sam Adams, The Onion A.V. Club

“John Sayles may be better known as a filmmaker (Lone Star, Eight Men Out, and my favorite, Return of the Secaucus 7) than as a novelist, but this drama spanning five years, and stretching from Cuba to the Philippines, proves him to be a great fiction writer. The conscience that infuses his earlier work is evident in this novel, and if you're looking for a summer reading challenge with a big payoff, this may be your book. Sayles tells a story of American racism and American imperialism at the turn of the century, through a kaleidoscope of imaginary and real-life characters, including Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst and Mark Twain.”
—Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune (Editor’s Choice)

“Sayles is a terrific writer. His breathtaking precision and attention to detail can make E.L. Doctorow's historical novels look puny and slapdash by comparison. His ability to map the intersections of scores of plots and hundreds of fictional and real-life characters is truly stunning.”
—Adam Langer, San Francisco Chronicle

A Moment in the Sun's moment is now, a strapping 935 pages, a sprawling U.S.A.-style novel that, something like the John Dos Passos classic, follows a group of characters in parallel tracks as they traverse the America of 1897, taking in the Yukon gold rush, the Spanish-American War in the Philippines, and the advent of movies. Like all Sayles films and novels, it's drenched in a detailed, loving awareness of time and place.”
Philadelphia Inquirer

“Absolutely vivid... Sayles’s creative strengths are on full display.”
Newsweek/The Daily Beast

"In his most spectacular work of fiction to date, filmmaker Sayles combines wonder and outrage in a vigorous dramatization of overlooked and downright shameful aspects of turn-of-the-nineteenth-century America.… Crackling with rare historical details, spiked with caustic humor, and fueled by incandescent wrath over racism, sexism, and serial injustice against working people, Sayles’ hard-driving yet penetrating and compassionate saga explicates the 'fever dream' of commerce, the crimes of war, and the dream of redemption."
—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

"Though known best as a filmmaker (Eight Men Out), Sayles is also an accomplished novelist (Union Dues), whose latest will stand among the finest work on his impressive résumé. Weighing in at nearly 1,000 pages, the behemoth recalls E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, Pynchon's Against the Day, and Dos Passos's USA trilogy, tracking mostly unconnected characters whose collective stories create a vast, kaleidoscopic panorama of the turn of the last century."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Sayles’s cat-squasher of a book... pulls all his characters onto a huge global stage, setting them into motion as America goes to war against Spain and takes its first giant step toward becoming a world power. The narrative is full of historical lessons of the Howard Zinn/Studs Terkel radical-revisionist school, but Sayles is too good a writer to be a propagandist; his stories tell their own lessons and many will be surprises... [A Moment in the Sun is] a long time in coming, with an ending that's one of the most memorable in recent literature. A superb novel.”
Kirkus (starred review)

About the Author

John Sayles’s previous novels include Pride of the Bimbos, Los Gusanos, and the National Book Award–nominated Union Dues. He has directed seventeen feature films, including Matewan, Lone Star, and Eight Men Out, and received two Academy Award nominations. His latest film, Amigo, was completed in 2010.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 968 pages
  • Publisher: McSweeney's; First Edition edition (May 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936365189
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936365180
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 2.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,055,682 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. KAPLAN on May 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Around page 700 or so of Moment in the Sun, it occurred to me that the book was so long because John Sayles needed that many pages for everything bad in the world to happen to his characters. Set in 1897 and the years immediately after, this story takes the reader on a tour of American oppression and misery. From an Alaskan Gold Rush boom town to a white supremacist insurrection in Wilmington, NC, to the invasions of Cuba and the Philippines, this is not a happy, feel-good novel.

It is, however, a well-told story. While rich in detail, Sayle's writing is clear and easy to read. For a novel that's almost 1000 pages long, it doesn't feel slow or padded. We get an in-depth view of his characters and their worlds, and really come to feel for them. We root for them to find happiness (some do) and shed a tear when horrible things happen to them (some of those do, as well).

What's fascinating, reading this book in 2011, is how many of the situations mirror those going on today. The Philippine response to the American occupation doesn't seem too far afield from the way our armed forces are treated right now. The fear-driven attempts to keep African-Americans from gaining any sort of political power is horribly painful to read, but it's even more so when I walk down my own block and see someone has posted a bumper sticker on a stop sign with an anti-Muslim epithet on it. This is the story of a time over 100 years ago, but it's also a story of today.

John Sayles' writing may be easy to read, but what he's talking about is difficult. But they're the sort of themes that should be written about, because they're the sorts of things still going on in the world today. This is a well-written piece of fiction because it's a gripping read, and because it's thought-provoking. The length is intimidating, but it's very much worth the effort.
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Format: Hardcover
There are some books that despite the size are horribly conceived and ultimately unreadable, but not this one. Sayles' take on the Philippine-American War at the turn of the century is rich, deceptively readable, and satisfying. Rich in terms of the amount of research and historical details that went into its writing, Sayles has certainly produced a one-of-a-kind monumental literary work. I am sure Filipinos residing in the Anglosphere world will appreciate Sayles' effort in bringing light into this often lost and forgotten part of Philippine history. Highly recommended. Buy one now. Share this with friends. Better yet, buy another and share that reading copy with friends.

As for the artwork and production values by McSweeney's in the making of this volume, I have to congratulate them for making A Moment in the Sun a KEEPER.
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Format: Hardcover
Powerful reading. Rich in history that few of us have much knowledge of, the war in the Phillipines at the turn of the twentieth century. As with Sayles other works, his cast of characters is large, but finely drawn. Multiple story lines, yet each fully developed. Was lucky enough to hear Sayles read from his new book and discuss it last night in Los Angeles. Don't be put off by the near thousand page length. This book will hold you all the way through.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If a better historical novel has ever been written, I'd like to know about it. This book is simply amazing: the richness of the writing, the period details, even the vernacular of times and places long gone, whether we're in the Yukon, Leadville Colorado, the New York newspaper world, North Carolina, Havana, Manilla, Hong Kong...every setting unfolds as it must have appeared at the dawn of the twentieth century. History comes alive as never before through the description and dialog that cinematically (no surprise) recreates each moment in history. Each one of the hundreds of minor and major characters are clearly delineated and it is often impossible to tell which characters are real and which are fictional. Sayles claims he wrote most of this during the writers' strike, and if so, he must have had a stable of researchers working for him because the wealth of historical detail is mind-boggling. Yet reading this doesn't feel like history for the story is so compelling. Don't be put off by the number of pages. I worked through this book faster than I usually do with standard length novels because the story and the writing were so intriguing I could not put it down. (And boy, are my arms sore!) This should be up for a Pulitzer.
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Format: Hardcover
I agree with previous reviewers about the novel's quality, with its engaging characters and plot and its remarkable historical scope. While the plot does shift the gaze to the Phillipines, so much of the novel brings to life a multiplicity of American characters: a kaleidoscope of immigrants, entrepreneurs, politicians, itinerants, newsies, all of many ethnicities. I especially commend Sayles for his many, well-written African-American characters: north and south, educated and illterate, female and male, at home and abroad. These characters poignantly beg readers to consider what it meant and means to be American.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a sprawling novel, and you need to be ready for that if you're going to enjoy it. The book is stuffed with characters and incidents, and not all of the characters nor all of the incidents feel "necessary", and yet I wouldn't have missed any of them for the world. There are several interconnecting strands of story. One of the strands was harder for me to understand and appreciate than the others: the story that centers around Diosdado, an idealistic Filipino revolutionary. By the end of the novel, I was as fascinated and involved in that story as the others, but I had to do some research on my own first. This book does not spoon-feed history to you. Rather the author just plunges the reader into situations as they might have been viewed by someone contemporary. When I finished with the book, I hated to part with the characters. Horrible things happen along the way, and many of the characters have appalling faults, but the novel is also full of people who manage to seize a bit of happiness in spite of everything. It was touching and inspiring.
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