A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR
The keeping of secrets and the telling of lies; sex and desire and ordinary love; existential doubt and model rocketry – all feature in the new novel from the author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.
‘The world, like the Tower of Babel or my grandmother’s deck of cards, was made out of stories, and it was always on the verge of collapse.’
Moonglow unfolds as a deathbed confession. An old man, his tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, his memory stirred by the imminence of death, tells stories to his grandson, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried. Why did he try to strangle a former business partner with a telephone cord? What was he thinking when he and a buddy set explosives on a bridge in Washington, D.C.? What did he feel while he hunted down Wernher von Braun in Germany? And what did he see in the young girl he met in Baltimore after returning home from the war?
From the Jewish slums of pre-war Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of a New York prison, from the heyday of the space programme to the twilight of ‘the American Century’, Moonglow collapses an era into a single life and a lifetime into a single week.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Michael Chabon’s autobiography-fiction mashup is absolutely brilliant. The author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Gentlemen of the Road has always had a thing for swashbucklers, but here his preposterously daring hero is based on his own grandfather and the stories he told Chabon on his deathbed. There are World War II adventures involving rockets, a tragic tale of love, and a side story about a one-man operation to take out a pet-eating python. Stylistically and emotionally, Moonglow consistently took our breath away.
Chabon's (Telegraph Avenue) charming and elegantly structured novel is presented as a memoir by a narrator named Mike who shares several autobiographical details with Chabon (for one, they're both novelists who live in the Bay Area). Mike's memoir is concerned less with his own life than with the lives of his deceased maternal Jewish grandparents, who remain unnamed. His grandfather whose deathbed reminisces serve as the novel's main narrative engine is a WWII veteran with an anger streak (the stint he does in prison after a workplace assault is one of the novel's finest sections) and a fascination with V-2 rockets, astronomy, space travel, and all things celestial or skyward. Mike's grandmother, born in France, is alluring but unstable, "a source of fire, madness, and poetry" whose personal history overlaps in unclear ways with the Holocaust, and whose fits of depression and hallucination result in her institutionalization (also one of the novel's finest sections). Chabon imbricates his characters' particular histories with broader, detail-rich narratives of war, migration, and technological advances involving such figures as Alger Hiss and Wernher von Braun. This move can sometimes feel forced. What seduces the reader is Chabon's language, which reinvents the world, joyously, on almost every page. Listening to his grandfather's often-harrowing stories, Mike thinks to himself, "What I knew about shame... would fit into half a pistachio shell."