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Moonglow (2016)

by Michael Chabon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,806767,554 (3.95)1 / 211
A man bears witness to his grandfather's deathbed confessions, which reveal his family's long-buried history and his involvement in a mail-order novelty company, World War II, and the space program.
  1. 00
    The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald (rab1953)
    rab1953: Another brilliant exploration of the American moon program through personal family stories
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» See also 211 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
Supposedly, in 1989, Chabon spent a week visiting his dying grandfather and the stories the older man imparted about his life inspired this book. This is a wonderful book, and much as I wanted, as I was reading it, to believe it all basically happened, Chabon has called this a work of fiction. The events might have sprung from Chabon's imagination, but the emotions resonate as universal truths about family, love, and self.

I found myself thinking a lot about my father, born a decade after the "grandfather" of the novel. My father, a space buff like the "grandfather," also served during World War II and also kept his feelings close to him. There were many moments in the book that brought forth a memory of my own, from a simple dinner of salami and eggs to "The Whip," a mobile amusement park ride in a truck. I'm not a reader who seeks to identify with characters and situations, but when it creeps up on me, it's an added pleasure.

And by the end of the book, as implausible as much of it seemed, I wanted it to all be real. Whatever sparks of reality inspired this decades-spanning story doesn't really matter. Chabon is an amazing storyteller and this is an amazing book. ( )
  ShellyS | Feb 27, 2022 |
This is a fictionalized account of the life of the author's grandfather. It is written as a memoir taken from deathbed confessions. Admittedly, it is all made up. In interviews, Chabon states that you can actually find a lot of himself in the grandfather's character.

It is the story of a man who lived a full life and who did have a couple of great passions--his beautiful but mentally ill wife, and his love for the idea of space travel. The majority of his life was devoted to both of these pursuits.

The grandfather and his haunted wife both carry scars from World War II. She endured personal trauma after losing her innocence and entire family to the Nazis. This affected her health over the years and required multiple stints in mental hospitals, thereby affecting the rest of the family; namely, "the grandfather" and his stepdaughter.

He was a Jewish-American soldier who never got over the loss of a great friend during the war or by his disillusionment about the true character of one of his long-time (science) heroes, the creator of the V-2 rocket, Werner Von Braun, who was a member of the Nazi Party and was (shamefully) snatched up by Americans at the end of the war in order to give us an edge in the Space Race against the Russians. There is a segment of the story about the grandfather's time spent in Germany during WWII including meeting a priest who just so happens to also have a focused interest in space travel and has a surprise stowed away inside a barn.

The grandfather has a stint in prison after trying to kill his employer and once again, finds a like-minded soul with a fondness for astronomy. This friendship leads to a future employment opportunity for the grandfather who later builds model rockets for N.A.S.A. It's all very Forrest Gump-like but it works.

The story itself is not fast moving nor necessarily exciting; however, the writing style is incredible and you cannot help but get drawn in by the characters of the grandfather and his wife. As they age and near the time of their demise, you grieve for them and feel for the author/narrator's loss, as if this were actually the story of his real family. ( )
  AddictedToMorphemes | Feb 25, 2022 |
Masterful, subtle and deep and very enjoyable. ( )
  Phil-James | Oct 1, 2021 |
I liked how the strands of history (political, personal, cultural) are drawn together to tell this tale. I love a lightly fictionalized memoir. It frees the writer up to put emphasis on what is important to them. I learned things and read bits aloud to my husband.

Why no names? 'My grandfather' interacting with 'my grandmother' and 'my mother' got confused in my head a few times. But it's his family and I'm sure he has his reasons. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
Michael Chabon writes with such engaging originality and imagination that I’d read anything he puts out. This novel combines a look at the complex relationships in his own family with some of the historical events of the 20th century. In writing about the people in his own family, he shows how world history affects generations in very personal ways, or how the personal often reflects profound social issues.
There’s a lot of beautiful writing here, with the moon and rocketry a symbol for the escape from the difficulties and horrors of life on earth. Similarly, a lot of Chabon’s images are so stark or unusual that they stick in the mind – the hermaphrodite in the trailer, for example, the conversations with the German priest, the dream of the horse, the snake hunt. These seem a lot of disparate images, but Chabon uses them to highlight the memorable story of his grandfather’s life.
Chabon’s grandfather wants to escape from the antisemitism and poverty of the USA in the 1920s and ’30s, and from the isolation that he seems to experience even within his own community. He joins the army, but is sent to join an intelligence unit. What he finds in searching for the U2 rocket construction sites leaves him unable to separate the aeronautical dream from the slave labour death camps overseen by rocketeer Wernher von Braun. This becomes even more complicated when he falls in love with a French refugee who is dealing with mental health issues that were compounded by – or maybe rose out of – her experiences in the war. Finally, he comes face to face with von Braun at an astronautics conference, and feels nothing for him but pity. In the end, Chabon concludes, his grandfather found love and outlived von Braun.
The role of storytelling is one of the themes in this novel, as it was in other books by Chabon. Storytelling offers a way to make sense of one’s life, as Chabon’s grandfather seems to be trying to do. It’s also a way to create a new life, as both his grandmother and von Braun have chosen to do. Chabon sees this as a house of cards: the stories his grandfather tells are pieces of some kind of building, although the building is unstable and prone to falling apart. Nevertheless, putting them together allows Chabon to find a kind of order in the bizarre series of events that he discovers make up his own family.
The links between fiction and reality is another theme in Chabon’s writing that comes out here. The book’s subtitle says that this is a novel, although it reads as a fairly straightforward retelling of his grandfather’s last days. Chabon’s gift as a writer is to make even the bizarre seem realistic. But perhaps the subtitle is merely meant to explain imagined lines of dialogue that Chabon wasn’t present for, or to provide a cover for the criminal events that he describes. (Family meetings might be difficult if he has to justify all the stories in the book.) But it made me wonder how much of this story is made up, as I did in Chabon’s Cavalier and Clay book. It also leads to the question of how much conventional history is a story. The whitewashed story of Werner von Braun and the American rocket program, for example, was clearly embellished to suit the needs and political objectives of the time.
Not long ago, I read The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie Macdonald, which has surprising parallels to this novel. Both seem to use elements of the authors’ family lives to explore the compromised history of the rocket programs of Germany and the United States, within a complex social context that includes family lies, racism, sexual abuse and criminality. Both are powerful reflections on the ideals of the space race coming into conflict with personal and political ends, and by extension with the idealistic stories we tell ourselves and the reality they hide. ( )
  rab1953 | Jul 28, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
This is a novel that, despite its chronological lurches, feels entirely sure footed, propulsive, the work of a master at his very best. The brilliance of Moonglow stands as a strident defence of the form itself, a bravura demonstration of the endless mutability and versatility of the novel.
 
One can read Chabon’s novel as an exploration of anger—a study of how one man’s innate rage is exacerbated by the horrors of the twentieth century and by their impact on his personal history.
added by melmore | editNew York Review of Books, Francine Prose (pay site) (Dec 22, 2016)
 
“Moonglow” is another scale model of love and death and catastrophe. It’s another reminder that we live in a broken world. And fiction, Chabon said, “is an attempt to mend it.”
 
And this book, a love letter to two temperamentally opposite grandparents — one a rational, practical American, the other a dreamy, romantic European — is also an account of their formative influences on the writer their grandson would become.

These are not so much explained as felt, woven into the very fabric of Chabon’s supple and resourceful prose. He brings the world of his grandparents to life in language that seems to partake of their essences.
added by melmore | editNew York Times, A. O. Scott (Nov 18, 2016)
 

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Chabon, Michaelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Martinez, AdalisCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Newbern, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it's all dark.
-Wernher von Braun
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To them, seriously
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This is how I heard the story.
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A man bears witness to his grandfather's deathbed confessions, which reveal his family's long-buried history and his involvement in a mail-order novelty company, World War II, and the space program.

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A man bears witness to his grandfather's deathbed confessions, which reveal his family's long-buried history and his involvement in a mail-order novelty company, World War II, and the space program.
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