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Moonglow: A Novel Paperback – September 19, 2017
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“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)
About the Author
Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Moonglow and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, among many others. He lives in Berkeley, California with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children.
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It's hard to summarize this novel, as the plot is not linear but instead darts back and forth across time and topic (despite, it should be said, the grandfather's explicit plea to "put the whole thing in proper chronological order"). At its most basic, it is the description of the last days of Chabon's grandfather's life, wherein he suddenly begins divulging aspects of his history that Chabon had not heard before. The bulk of the memoir concerns three major narrative threads: the grandfather's wartime experiences, where he was tasked with hunting down everything and everyone associated with the German's rocketry program after Hitler's collapse and before the Russians could take custody of the material; the fraught relationship between Chabon's grandparents, especially with respect to dealing with his grandmother's mental illness; and the period shortly before Chabon's grandfather's death, when he finds himself falling in love again.
However, describing the novel in these terms really does not do justice to the narrative layers and complexity of the issues Chabon grapples with. The description of Mittelbau, the concentration camp constructed by the Nazis devoted to building V-2 rockets, will haunt me for a long time, and Chabon's discussion of Werner von Braun's apparently fully cognizant role in this camp culminates in the painful conclusion that America's "ascent to the moon had been made with a ladder of bones."
Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the novel was the deep---and completely unwarranted--sense of failure and despair that Chabon's grandfather seems to have carried throughout his life, as expressed in this passage: "All my life, everything I tried, I only got halfway there. You try to take advantage of the time you have... But when you're old, you look back and you see all you did with that time is waste it. All you have is a story of things you never started or couldn't finish." It saddens me to think that he never recognized the strength of his character and all the remarkable things he accomplished, not least of which was loyalty to his wife under circumstances where many would be tempted to give up and walk away.
I think "Moonglow" is one of the best novels I have read in years, and I hope this review does not deter anybody from reading it. My description is admittedly rather bleak, but while the book does delve into serious topics and describes heartbreaking events, it would be a mistake to think that it is relentlessly depressing. Much humor abounds, especially involving the character of Uncle Ray, a man for whom the adjective "rascally" was seemingly invented, who takes custody of Chabon's mother when the grandparents were institutionalized. And even though the subject matter is often disturbing or depressing, the beauty of Chabon's prose makes reading the book immensely worthwhile. I found myself dog-earing numerous passages that resonated deeply with me, such as this one where Chabon notes that during the war, his grandfather "was accustomed by now to feeling grateful that when death settled like a flock of birds around him, it was other men and not him on whom it perched. This gratitude never had anything to do with happiness."
Other reviewers have opined that this novel, while excellent, does not quite live up to some of Chabon's earlier Pulitzer prize-winning novels. I cannot attest to the validity of that opinion, because I must confess that this is the first book by Chabon (but by no means will be the last!) that I have ever read. What I *will* say is that if Chabon has written books that are even better than "Moonglow," he must surely be one of greatest writers of our time.
The main reason this novel works is because of the character of his grandfather. I can’t help but wonder how closely the grandfather character corresponds to his actual grandfather (which is, admittedly, irritating); however, the character is absolutely fascinating. Mr. Chabon handles it nicely, moving back and forth in time. We see him as a boy, as a soldier in World War II, in the aftermath when he meets his eventual wife, in his working years when he achieves successes as well as failures, in his retirement, and as he is dying. His self-containment hiding amazing experiences is something that reminds me of many of the men in my own family, particularly of that generation.
Surrounding the grandfather character is a host of others that stick in the memory: the grandfather’s brother, a rabbi turned rake; Chabon’s mother, who lived through much of this as a child; and, most vividly, the grandfather’s wife, Chabon’s grandmother, who suffered greatly during the war and struggles with madness afterwards; not to mention the minor characters too numerous to mention who have their moments. Though there is action aplenty, it is the relationships that drive the novel forward.
Fiction or disguised nonfiction, I have to assume that writing this novel was cathartic for Mr. Chabon. The care and interest he has in this story is apparent on every page. It is an amazing book, the best I’ve read from him.
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