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Moonglow (2016)

by Michael Chabon

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1,596698,171 (3.94)159
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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» See also 159 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
Okay, I went in with the healthy dose of skepticism that always accompanies me when I pick up a book that has been praised to the rafters. Also, although I am in awe of Chabon's command of vocabulary, his short stories have consistently disappointed me; I always think he should quit 4/5 of the way through, and he never does. But Moonglow captivated me, apart from a bit of obsessiveness over rockets. A mystery, a character study, a family novel, a trick, truth and fiction mixed together as a fictional memoir of someone else's history. ( )
  AnaraGuard | Nov 1, 2020 |
In this novel disguised as a memoir, the narrator, Mike recounts his grandfather's life as pieced together during his life, but largely filled in during his dying days. The narrator often recedes to the background as his grandfather's tale takes over, providing details he could have no way of knowing and it's a little hard to believe they could be remembered so thoroughly. But thorough it is, providing examples from his grandfather's boyhood that reveal him to be both a rogue and a softy -- he had no use for mindless standard conventions and rules, but he also couldn't abide injustice and was always on the lookout for someone to save. His choice of wife was a case in point: mentally fragile, physically beautiful, a seeming survivor of a WWII concentration camp by the tattoo on her arm, he falls quickly and deeply in love with her and her young daughter (Mike's mother) refugees of war. He himself fought in special ops in the War, being among the early liberators of Germany and on the hunt for Nazi leaders, particularly those associated with the development of rockets, like Werner Von Braun. History is deftly mixed with fiction in his accounts of that era, and the description of his grandfather's obsession with and respect for space and gadgetry forms a spiritual backbone of the novel. As an agnostic Jew, his grandfather had little other use for faith. Mike adds his own memories of his grandparents from when he was little -- his fear/discomfort with Mamie's mood swings, tarot cards, and stories and he prods a bit at his mother's experience of living with Uncle Ray, a hipster rabbi and con man, during the 50s when her mother was in a mental health institution and her father was in jail -- another interesting facet to this man's colorful, though unobtrusive life. The story telescopes skillfully and humorously between the recent past: the years Mike's grandfather lived without his grandmother after her death to cancer, during which he lives in a FL retirement community, becomes involved with Sally and goes on another saving crusade for her cat lost in the Everglades, and is a special employee of NASA, building scale models of rockets, space craft and even a lunar settlement-- and the distant past: his grandfather's childhood, war experience, early job and business ventures. Like a satellite, the story makes a complete arc to tie up nicely with a fuller understanding and appreciation for Mike and his mother of the complex man his grandfather was and the Forrest Gump-like ways he intersected with 20th century history. He comes to a deeper understanding of himself and his family too. ( )
  CarrieWuj | Oct 24, 2020 |
Such an absolute joy to read. Delightful mastery of the English language, with prose that shines like poetry. ( )
  wbcthree | Sep 14, 2020 |
This was lovely and bittersweet and complicated, which I kind of expect from Chabon but how lovely (etc.) it was blew me away. The characters are so brightly realized, the story and memories feel so true, and I’m certain this is actually a memoir, or so close to being one it’s nearly the same thing. The structure, too, plays into that, flowing smoothly through time and resonating with itself in unique and beautiful ways, like the motif of space travel that pops up where you least expect it. A lot of the fun, for me at least, was piecing together the fragments of memory into a more complete narrative, and I can’t buck the feeling that this is in many ways a eulogy, and in other ways, Chabon himself piecing together his family history along with us.

So that’s the feel of it. The story itself is rich and vibrant, full of joy and pain, success and tragedy, and otherwise hard to describe. It more or less traces the life of Chabon’s maternal grandfather (assuming this is a memoir) from childhood to final days, and the life of his maternal grandmother as viewed through family recollection—but that undersells it by a long shot, because their lives, my goodness, their lives…. It’s the sort of stuff you can’t make up, except perhaps Chabon did. There’s a jack o’lantern, a prison, a deck of tarot cards, a gambling rabbi, a roomful of spaceships, an Everglades python, and a rage-fueled chase across Germany, and that’s just skimming the surface. To say more would be to spoil the experience, and since I recommend the experience, I’ll stop there.

Warnings: Schizophrenia (portrayed sympathetically); mentions of the Holocaust, rape, and molestation; systemic anti-Semitism directed at the main characters; cancer; one instance of the g-slur.

9/10 ( )
  NinjaMuse | Jul 26, 2020 |
Ignoring the whole marketing of this book as a novelised biography that tries to have the cake of Based on a True Story and eating it with extra flourishes of creamy embellishments too, this is a great yarn that is excellently told.

It's exactly like a story that's been rehearsed and practised and passed down the generations: well-refined, glibly passing over distracting details, introducing half-true garnishes that melt over time into something unrecognisable from the original.

Other than Kavalier & Clay, Chabon's fiction has not been my cup of tea. Everything is always laden with metaphors that my mind would splutter and drown in the thick treacle of descriptions before page 50.

But Moonglow captured my heart. There's a refreshing immediacy to the events. People can drink or wear clothes without either being compared to the deep unknown sea where the narrator would eventually be swallowed or the texture of sand as an exile in the desert (not actual examples). However there was still a troubling amount of bosomy descriptions for every woman.

There're three simultaneous time periods and yet they were never confusing thanks to Chabon's deft and steadying touch. I also enjoyed the gimmick of the characters being referred to as "my grandfather" or "my mother" instead of by name. Instead of keeping the reader at a remove, it added a stabilising element to the events, tying the characters to their future and the narrator. There are satisfying resolutions to events and gaspworthy twists that if you treat them as real would require a more sombre examination. I'd be glad to sit gather round a fireside for this serialised family tale.

Aside: I'm not sure how much connection this cover has to the content but I'd love for the matchheads to be like the spine of that edition of Fahrenheit451. ( )
  kitzyl | Jul 24, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (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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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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