Poxl West fled the Nazis' onslaught in Czechoslovakia. He escaped their clutches again in Holland. He pulled Londoners from the Blitz's rubble. He wooed intoxicating, unconventional beauties. He rained fire on Germany from his RAF bomber.
Poxl West is the epitome of manhood and something of an idol to his teenage nephew, Eli Goldstein, who reveres him as a brave, singular, Jewish war hero. Poxl fills Eli's head with electric accounts of his derring-do, adventures and romances, as he collects the best episodes from his storied life into a memoir.
He publishes that memoir, Skylock, to great acclaim, and its success takes him on the road, and out of Eli's life. With his uncle gone, Eli throws himself into reading his opus and becomes fixated on all things Poxl.
But as he delves deeper into Poxl's history, Eli begins to see that the life of the fearless superman he's adored has been much darker than he let on, and filled with unimaginable loss from which he may have not recovered. As the truth about Poxl emerges, it forces Eli to face irreconcilable facts about the war he's romanticized and the vision of the man he's held so dear.
Daniel Torday's debut novel, The Last Flight of Poxl West, beautifully weaves together the two unforgettable voices of Eli Goldstein and Poxl West, exploring what it really means to be a hero, and to be a family, in the long shadow of war.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Raising fascinating questions about the divide between fiction and nonfiction, Daniel Torday’s debut novel kept us riveted from start to finish. The book entwines two narratives: Czech Jew turned British fighter pilot Poxl West’s nail-biter of a memoir, Skylock, and the story of Poxl’s complicated relationship with his adopted nephew Eli, who’s in thrall of his elder’s front-seat perspective on World War II. Bursting with immediacy, both stories made us think about the nature of heroism. Above all, we couldn’t wait to discover how much of Skylock would turn out to be true.
Torday introduces readers to Poxl West, whose bestselling 1980s memoir Skylock is the book within this riveting debut novel. Eighteen-year-old Poxl fled his native Czechoslovakia for Rotterdam when Hitler rolled into Austria, never to see his parents again. As the war progressed, he made his way to London, eventually flying bombers in the RAF. Those impossibly difficult war years unfold over five acts, which constitute the Shylock part of the structure and which alternate with the narrative of Elijah Goldstein, Poxl's young nephew. Torday's descriptive and powerful prose stands as the book's highlight. The book-within-a-book memoir is a page-turner, particularly as Poxl remembers his mother and father and their marriage, and his time in London during the Blitz. His fixation and guilt over the love he left behind in Rotterdam, though, nearly devolves into navel gazing. The author recalibrates his character's self-indulgence in time for Skylock to end on a poignant note. Elijah's chapters culminate with him looking at his uncle through more mature eyes. Torday's restraint as this story line takes on new importance shows mastery of his craft, culminating with a tender ending to Elijah's narrative.