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Moonglow: A Novel Hardcover – November 22, 2016
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Winner of the Sophie Brody Medal • An NBCC Finalist for 2016 Award for Fiction • ALA Carnegie Medal Finalist for Excellence in Fiction • Wall Street Journal’s Best Novel of the Year • A New York Times Notable Book of the Year • A Washington Post Best Book of the Year • An NPR Best Book of the Year • A Slate Best Book of the Year • A Christian Science Monitor Top 15 Fiction Book of the Year • A New York Magazine Best Book of the Year • A San Francisco Chronicle Book of the Year • A Buzzfeed Best Book of the Year • A New York Post Best Book of the Year
iBooks Novel of the Year • An Amazon Editors' Top 20 Book of the Year • #1 Indie Next Pick • #1 Amazon Spotlight Pick • A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice • A BookPage Top Fiction Pick of the Month • An Indie Next Bestseller
"This book is beautiful.” — A.O. Scott, New York Times Book Review, cover review
Following on the heels of his New York Times bestselling novel Telegraph Avenue, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon delivers another literary masterpiece: a novel of truth and lies, family legends, and existential adventure—and the forces that work to destroy us.
In 1989, fresh from the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon traveled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California, to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon’s grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis for the novel Moonglow, the latest feat of legerdemain from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon.
Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and marriage and desire, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at midcentury, and, above all, of the destructive impact—and the creative power—of keeping secrets and telling lies. It is a portrait of the difficult but passionate love between the narrator’s grandfather and his grandmother, an enigmatic woman broken by her experience growing up in war-torn France. It is also a tour de force of speculative autobiography in which Chabon devises and reveals a secret history of his own imagination.
From the Jewish slums of prewar South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York’s Wallkill prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of the “American Century,” the novel revisits an entire era through a single life and collapses a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most moving and inventive.
“Elegiac and deeply poignant ... Chabon weaves these knotted-together tales together into a tapestry that’s as complicated, beautiful and flawed as an antique carpet.... Chabon is one of contemporary literature’s most gifted prose stylists.... In Moonglow, he writes with both lovely lyricism and highly caffeinated fervor.” — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“An exuberant meld of fiction and family history.... It’s the caliber of his writing-evocative sentences and indelible metaphors-that gives the novel its luster…. Moonglow prisms through a single life the desires and despair of the Greatest Generation, whose small steps and giant leaps continue to shape us all.” — Hamilton Cain, O Magazine
“A wondrous book that celebrates the power of family bonds and the slipperiness of memory….A thoroughly enchanting story about the circuitous path that a life follows, about the accidents that redirect it, and about the secrets that can be felt but never seen, like the dark matter at the center of every family’s cosmos.” — Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Mix[es] in generous dollops of meaning, a sprinkling of fancy metaphors and an abundance of beautiful sentences so that it becomes a rich and exotic confection. Too strict a recipe would have spoiled the charm of this layer cake of nested memories and family legends.… This book is beautiful.” — A.O. Scott, New York Times Book Review, cover review
“A flamboyantly imaganitive work of fiction dressed in the sheep’s clothing of autobiography....His most confident and complex performance....Moonglow is a movingly bittersweet novel that balances wonder with lamentation.” — Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“Like The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, and especially The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, this is classic Chabon: an intensely personal story uplifted by the shifting tectonic plates of truth and memory, floating atop his inimitably crafted, sometimes audacious, always original prose.” — Jon Foro, The Amazon Book Review, Spotlight Pick
“A poignant, engrossing triumph.” — People
“An often rollicking, ultimately moving read. And like the song, it’s liable to stay with you.” — Heller McAlpin, NPR.org
“Absolutely brilliant…. Stylistically and emotionally, Moonglow took our breath away over and over.” — iBooks Review
“His prose is as luminous as ever.” — Entertainment Weekly
“Chabon renders an entire era within a single deathbed confession―a scale model of life after the Second World War.” — Cody Delistraty, The New Yorker
“Radiant.” — Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair
“A story as much about the art of storytelling as it is about family, history, and the 20th century, Moonglow is a dazzling achievement.” — Buzzfeed
“Vibrant…. A feast for fans of the Pulitzer winner’s magical prose.” — Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
“Michael Chabon fills this dashing, Technicolor tribute to his grandfather’s generation with outsize mythology. Space travel and sorcery are just two of the novel’s wondrous themes. The book, his best yet, cements his place in the front of American writers.” — Best Book of the Year, The Wall Street Journal
“The grandfather is a terrific character: difficult, complex, admirable―at once unique and typical of a generation…. Audacious and accomplished, Moonglow is a four-hundred-page love letter to that generation, and one is thankful to Chabon for having brought one of those characters so vividly back to life.” — Francine Prose, New York Review of Books
“An exercise in exploring the slippery nature of truth, memory and what makes a compelling story. Are stories ‘just names and dates and places [that don’t] add up to anything?’ like Grandpa suggests? Or are they, instead, something more illusive, more aching, more mysterious and meaningful. In terms of Moonglow, it’s definitely the latter.” — Alexis Burling, San Francisco Chronicle
“Moonglow is most fundamentally a credible and carnal love story. You so love the two grandparents that you have a stake in their literal existence. You want the world to be like this, not just some book. Art, such magical stuff is called.” — Robert Christgau, The Village Voice
“A magical family narrative that is as grand and mysterious as the literary form in which he presents it.” — Kevin Nance, Poets & Writers
“Perhaps the most accessible of America’s great literary novelists since the death of John Updike.” — Kevin Nance, USA Today, starred review
“The Pulitzer Prize winner’s most probing and substantial book yet.” — Michael Upchurch, Boston Globe
“A high-spirited pack of lies rakishly masquerading as a memoir.... Delicious.” — Marion Winik, Newsday
“Moonglow explores the war, sex, and technology of mid-century America in all its glory and folly. It’s simultaneously Chabon’s most imaginative and personal work to date.” — November Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated
“A dying grandfather transports the reader through an entire era via lyrical tales of war, love and model rockets.” — Time
“You will not find better, funnier, more varied writing in a novel this year.” — Katy Waldman, Slate
“Chabon aims for the moon and successfully touches down on the lunar surface.... An emotional tale of love and loss; fabulous, at times magical, writing. Moonglow floats through time and space to carry the reader to a fascinating new world.” — Jonathan Elderfield, Associated Press
“Sparkling, richly satisfying.” — BookPage, Top Fiction Pick
“Chabon writes with the aplomb of a test pilot,” — Michael Merschel, Dallas Morning News
“Refreshing honest, funny, and succint: Chabon in a nutshell.... Moonglow is a long, elegant mess that feels like truth. It is both elegiac and immeditate, balanced between rambling, wrenching emotion and clean descriptive precision.” — Emily Simon, Buffalo News
“This novel is Chabon’s Apollo mission to the past, launched with the same combination of ingenuity, dedication, and wonder.” — Adam Kirsch, Tablet
“There’s rarely a moment in this book ... when Chabon isn’t delivering some of the liveliest and richest writing to be found on the current fiction scene.” — Chris Barsanti, PopMatters
“His most beautifully realized novel to date ... a masterful and resounding novel of the dark and blazing forces that forged our tumultuous, confounding, and precious world.” — Booklist, starred review
“Luminous.... The story builds to core revelations of wartime horror and postwar heartbreak as powerful as they come.” — Library Journal, starred review
“Utterly enchanting. Chabon makes you believe, even as you know you’re being pulled along by the romance of a good story. Moonglow is a novel about faith in storytelling itself.” — Christine Pivovar, The Rumpus
“All stories worth telling are at their hearts mysteries, a search for missing pieces. This is true of both fact and fiction, a point the book deftly makes by the sly counterpoint of those categories. In Moonglow, Chabon has taken on that search with a quiet, cosmic playfulness.” — Talya Zax, Forward
“Charming and elegantly structured.... What seduces the reader is Chabon’s language, which reinvents the world, joyously, on almost every page.” — Publishers Weekly
“[Very powerful]…. Gorgeously written and shaded with sadness, a story of recklessness, bravery and loss that spans the 20th century.” — Kevin Canfield, Kansas City Star
“Moonglow is another literary tour de force by one of America’s great writers, extraordinary rich and poignant.” — Jonathyan Kirsch, The Jewish Journal
“Intoxicating.” — David Wright, Seattle Times
“A marvel of melancholy enchantment.” — Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times
“Moonglow blurs the line between autobiography and fiction in interesting ways, and manages to feel more artful than most memoirs and more true than most novels.” — Bookish
“If we consider the novel a race and the memoir a marathon, Chabon has been training for Moonglow his whole career.” — Julia Cook, The Stranger
“Fascinating.” — Harper Barnes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Inventively fuses family history and fiction but leaves cracks for happiness and meaning to shine through.” — Rebecca Foster, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- Publisher : Harper; First Edition (November 22, 2016)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 430 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062225553
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062225559
- Item Weight : 1.42 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.37 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #365,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on January 29, 2017
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Moonglow is a wild ride that starts at the bedside of one man dying which turns into a lifetime, a family's story, a very American story - complete with redemptive arcs, great scenes of cities I love, and real vitality. It feels so real because of the little details and the nuances that I haven't found in Chabon's other work. It's very different from the other work in some ways, yet there's always those metaphors. Apparently he inherited that ability, says the [fictionalized nonfiction-ish] grandfather.
It's clear that Chabon has a very close understanding of the convoluted underpinnings, including street names, neighborhoods, buildings, businesses, and a real love of the family about which he writes. I wish I'd felt the love before I did. It took me a long time to care about these people. I felt rather divorced from the story being told for far too long. It goes on wild tangents -- sometimes they work beautifully (the story of the snake hunting is a prime example of a beautiful tangent that tells a lovely tangent of a story that tells us important things about the main character) and sometimes they just fell flat for me. It was during one of those moments that I almost abandoned the book.
I'm not a skimmer, thank goodness. If one skims in this story, one will miss something that turns out to be vital many pages later. Not in the sense of "how?" but more in the sense of why it matters. I'd imagine it's hard to write a story where all at once you're in the present and past, explaining why someone is finally telling you things you've been angry at them for not telling your whole life. Perhaps this fictionalized way was the only way to get some of this family's secrets out?
It's very hard to believe this is plain ole fiction - no matter how good. (Unless maybe that explains all the awards.) I doubt it's for everyone. I thought it wasn't for me, but I found myself wishing I'd known the family of the narrator (who is never called Michael Chabon, but who has a very similar life to its author, Michael Chabon.) I'm glad I read it, and I was sorry when it ended. I've moved on, but the characters and their warm spirits - especially an awkward, flawed, yet fiercely loving grandfather -- will stay with me for a long time.
I should note the memoirist stance isn't completely successful. There are quite a few scenes in the novel where the details that are "shared" between grandfather and grandson are much more intimate than I would judge reasonable from someone in the generation of Americans that came of age during World Ware II.
The book contains a number of striking literary resonances: here and there it pays homage to J.D. Salinger's shattering World War II experiences, "Gravity's Rainbow's" picaresque account of the German V2 rocket program, and the author's own comic book obsession that was on display in "Kavalier and Klay." Like a Doctorow novel, a couple of historical personages make dramatic appearances: the life and career of Werner von Braun is a major narrative thrust, while both "Wild Bill" Donovan and Alger Hiss make cameo appearances that add to the realism of the plot. There are also distinct echoes of the deranged road trip Lolita takes with Humbert, with the deft twist of a modern empowered, feminist heroine. (Think, Felix Krull, Confidence Man, corrupts Katniss Everdeen.)
Chabon has an especially deft touch with all his female characters; when they are center stage, the book really shines. How the grandfather's tale illuminates the author's understanding of his mother and her life history (and, by definition, his) is a particularly poignant high point.
The life of the lead character, the grandfather, dominates the narrative, and that is not always the book's strength because he is a bit more one-dimensional than any of the female protagonists. In a final bit of literary resonance, he reminded me of a Jewish version of Bellow's Henderson -- he wants, but he usually isn't able to articulate what it is that he wants. And, like Bellow's hero, his comic blundering propels the novel's action forward.
All in all, this is a very satisfactory read.
What makes this book truly interesting is the biography of this most unusual man (fictionalized) who, while brilliant, did not always respect the boundaries of lawful behavior. Impatient and endowed with a fierce temper, he managed to earn a short stay in prison. This combined with his adventurous spirit and landed him a gig in the US Army as a lieutenant risking his life during the last months of WW2. Assigned the precarious task of looking for prized German scientists who might help the US military in future adventures, he realized his full potential. In some ways he played a Jason Bourne like character who wasn't fully alive until he was on an adrenalin rush.
The writing style: I was impressed with the colorful and entertaining prose. It flowed smoothly. I had occasional problems with transitions between present, past, and the distant past. This might be explained by the fact that I am a slow reader. Other times, when the story became exciting (dangerous), I was so eager to see what was going to happen next and I skimmed over some of the colorful descriptive text.
I recommend this. It's well worth your time.
Top reviews from other countries
Early on in the book, Chabon’s narrator says: “To claim or represent that I retain an exact or even approximate recollection of what anyone said so long ago would be to commit the memoirist’s great sin.” Is the author toying with us? It would seem so because what we have here, weaving in and out of different timelines, are stories and dialogue that are ‘recalled’ with crystal clarity: the grandfather’s spell in prison, his end-of-wartime exploits as part of an intelligence unit sent to track down the cream of Germany’s rocket scientists and spirit them to the States before the Russians can get their hands on them. (The grandfather - a passionate follower of the space programme and an inspired engineer himself - might even have been a rocket man in another life.) He recounts the story of how he met the narrator’s grandmother, a French refugee with terrible memories leading to profound mental illness. When the narrator, as a young boy, asks why his grandma owns a deck of fortune-telling cards, is it because she is a witch? She replies, “Not anymore.” But she certainly bewitches the grandfather who cares for her deeply. When they first meet, she is already the mother of a young daughter. The grandfather, whose name we never learn, has no blood tie to the narrator at all.
This is a book with tremendous heart: a serenade to family told with Michael Chabon’s customary command and into which he effortlessly injects his own natural warmth and good humour. Despite Chabon’s flagrant flouting of the grandfather’s exhortation to: “Put the whole thing in chronological order, not like this mishmash I’m making you”, the style reflects an old man’s wandering reminiscences. Moonglow is woven with great tales and dotted with brilliant characters - none more so than the grandfather with whom I ended up quite in love. I would imagine that on book tours this Pulitzer Prize-winning writer must be asked incessantly: “How much of Moonglow is true?” But does it matter? And if this really is a memoir, how I envy the author because the plain fact is that by the time most of us become interested in our family history, it’s too late to get the answers to our questions. Chabon got lucky. So are the readers who love his books.
Now that Bellow is dead and Roth retired, Chabon steps up to be the new bard of the Jewish experience in America. Going beyond his previous efforts to capture the zeitgeist, Chabon produces his best work since, well, his last novel, Telegraph Avenue. No one except Franzen writes such accessible, big novels.
This 'biography' of Chabon's 'grandfather' is a stunning piece of whimsy, the tale of a cranky old genius that grips and surprises throughout. It is also a bizarre take on the Jewish belief or non-belief in God, the Holocaust and masculinity. Some critics would prefer Chabon to be more serious and not so flip, but he manages to make telling observations and convey ideas while making the reader flip the page. That he is now the heavyweight champion of quality American Jewish prose seems to me to be beyond dispute, if you count this, Kavalier and Clay, Wonder Boys, Telegraph Avenue and The Yiddish Policeman's Union into account.
Its a long, hairy novel, full of time switches and strange incidents. The prose is great; sparkling but not as showy as he can write. But I enjoyed it all and can see why it is up for literary prizes.
Whatever. Chabon is a brilliant writer. Whatever he writes, I can't put down once I start reading. Another reviewer describes him as the new American heavyweight novelist and while I see what this is meant to say I feel that Chabon's writing is so light, fluid and immediate that the word heavy ought not to go in the same place with it.
Also, the Grandfather whose story is told (whether he is Chabon's grandfather or a fictional one hardly matters) is a fascinating man who I would love to have met. And he and the Grandmother and the mother and the narrator and all the incidental characters are all people I feel the richer for having met even if only on the page.
Also the history, made personal, of the war against Hitler, the life of Jews in America, the space programme, the atrocities and the memories that came back from that war and that appalling era is yet again made new. The story of how some people tried to make sense of their lives after going through these things is riveting, gripping and harrowing, moving, tender, matter of fact and I could go on but I can't do justice. Just read it.
When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me all kinds of tales. Tales from the war, tales about my grandad, tales from his national service, tales about my great grandad.
He was a young farmer’s lad in Bramley during the second world war and his wartime tales were like Ealing comedies, full of bobbies being bribed, Heinkels crashing in Bramley fall woods, the crew being captured by the local toughs and pigs being traded for booze and cigarette rations.
His stories about my great grandad captivated me the most though. In a wheelchair for most of his life, my great grandad had fought in the Crimean war and was present and correct in the charge of the light brigade. His legs were destroyed by a Russian cannon and he spent the rest of his life without legs. I was spellbound.
These stories entered into the canon of our family history and became inextricably linked to my life: they were true. As I grew older I knew my dad had the propensity to embellish as story and I’m sure that I have inherited his skill, as have most of us. We’d roll our eyes and chuckle as a breakdown in the snow would turn into an escapade worthy of John Buchan’s 39 Steps on its umpteenth telling.
So in recent years when I found out, purely by chance, that my great grandad didn’t lose his legs in the Crimea but in an accident falling off a wall in Stanningley, I smiled. I thought about the intricate stories my dad had weaved over the years, and instead of thinking about the truth of his tales, what's real and what's made up, I relaxed and accepted the delicate balance between truth and fiction we all have to achieve to some degree.
It was with this mindset I approached this book. Pitched as kind of memoir initially, I was comfortable from the off to read this as a work of pure fiction with some factual stuff thrown in for good measure.
Moonglow is a wonderful read – engaging and emotional in so many ways. Characters I cared about from the off, delicately woven together and completely believable. The device of broken timelines normally annoys me but was totally acceptable in this instance, piecing together the lives lived and the experiences were vividly portrayed.
The grandfather was superbly complex and utterly convincing -- and his relationship with his wife was tender, real and drew me right in. Every other character in the book orbited around this relationship like the heavenly bodies he worshipped so dearly — in a way they were the centre of their own firmament.
The second world war chapters of the book were entirely absorbing and beautifully told, the premise of hunting Von Braun was a masterstroke and his subsequent journey across Germany was fabulous. Incredibly vivid imagery still linger such as the German boy on the motorcycle.
As if that wasn’t enough, Chabon followed on from WW2 with moon exploration and model making! This book ticked a lot of boxes for me, given my obsession as a child with the second world war, space exploration and model making. He even mentions ‘kit bashing’ – which is very niche model making terminology, referring to how early movie spaceships models were made. Lovely.
And yet the author told the story carefully and patiently, revealing bit by bit the implications of the actions of the grandfather and instead of a source of frustration, the dislocated narrative drew me in, revealing answers to questions, allowing me to piece it all together. Although the grandfather wished for his story to be told in chronological order, the author’s decision to mix it up is the right one.
I loved the grandfather’s quote which went along the lines of ‘all of this is true, at least to the best of my memory’ and this is the reason why this book is so successful. It wears it factuality very lightly and I wasn’t tempted once to check the historical accuracy of the story. At times it reminded me of the way William Boyd effortlessly weaves in real characters from history into his fictional narratives.
I’ll stop now because I could write about this book for a very long time and I’m aware a long written review can be a pain, so I’ll apologise in advance. Moonglow is one of the best books we’ve read in book club, enjoyable in itself (how the hell did we manage that??) and nourishing because it got me thinking about my life, my family and the people in it.