Sunday, March 24, 2019

Book Review - Moonglow by Michael Chabon

My book group read this book for our last selection. Many of the readers did not finish it, so the discussion was scant, but I found it intriguing, and so did the members who did finish it.

Michael Chabon is an interesting author. His first book published was that of his thesis in grad school; his professor sent it off for publication and still, Chabon was uncertain if he'd made the grade with his thesis. His writing style and subject matter are varied. I first heard of him years ago when he wrote a middle grade book for a younger audience.

In Moonglow, Chabon taps a truly interesting topic; the progress toward space travel and the race to put man on the moon. It is a back and forth story told in the past, on up to the present, of a young man telling his grandfather's story. It swings like a pendulum, which was the reason many of my book group were unable to get into the rhythm of the book; many readers prefer a more linear style. The story is told in the first person, mostly, but the grandfather's life is told from a narrator's point of view - one would assume Chabon. In one review I read criticism of this writing style, suggesting that Chabon was a narcissist; Me, Me, Me. I did not feel that way, and in fact, Chabon says that there is little truth in the novel, although he did get the idea from time spent with his dying grandfather. Don't we all have stories to tell? There is always some truth and some fiction in all of us.

Grandfather began a rough and tumble existence in his early zest for life and living. He was adventurous and was exposed to a less gentile lifestyle; authority, to him truly did not matter. Ultimately he ends up in the military and as he matures and learns more of the world he discovers weaknesses in the way things are run. This causes him advancement in his military career (jail or being trained for espionage/covert actions), and really stays with him throughout his life. The back and forth movement of the story shows the progression of his life and how his family came to be, how he lived before, during the war, and after, ending up with him as an old man living in Florida in a retirement park. Just before his final diagnosis of a fatal disease he meets a woman and has one final adventure.

There are other stories entwined; that of the Grandmother, the Mother and the narrator himself. Deep in Nazi Germany during the late days of the war, Grandfather also meets a cast of interesting characters trying to survive the war, including an old priest who's interests are similar to Grandfather; that of space, rockets, and the moon. Grandfather is seeking Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun; the creator of the V2 rocket. The idea was to capture von Braun or his papers in order to obtain the technology before the Russians captured him and had the same opportunity. Neither the Russians or Grandfather capture von Braun - he very wisely, in real life and in this book, turned himself in to the Americans right after Hitler dies. There are a lot of truth and facts scattered throughout the entire story, making it a plausible story of fantastical fictionalized historical fiction.

I enjoyed the book. It was confusing at first, the pendulum motion of back and forth, but I found it an enjoyable read, especially learning a little bit more about the historical side of space travel. Some of my book group members felt that the characters of the mother and the grandmother were not fleshed out enough, but honestly, the story was more of Grandfather and he was a likable, interesting character.

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