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In 1989, fresh from the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon traveled to his mother's home in Oakland, California, to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon's grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis of the novel Moonglow, the latest feat of legerdemain in the ongoing magic act that is the art of Michael Chabon.
Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession, made to his grandson, of a man the narrator refers to only as "my grandfather". It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and desire and ordinary love, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at midcentury, and, above all, of the destructive impact - and the creative power - of the keeping of secrets and the telling of lies.
A gripping, poignant, tragicomic, scrupulously researched, and wholly imaginary transcript of a life that spanned the dark heart of the 20th century, Moonglow is also a tour de force of speculative history in which Chabon attempts to reconstruct the mysterious origins and fate of Chabon Scientific Co., an authentic mail-order novelty company whose ads for scale models of human skeletons, combustion engines, and space rockets were once a fixture in the back pages of Esquire, Popular Mechanics, and Boy's Life. Along the way Chabon devises and reveals, in bits and pieces whose hallucinatory intensity is matched only by their comic vigor and the radiant moonglow of his prose, a secret history of his own imagination.
From the Jewish slums of prewar South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York's Wallkill Prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of the American Century, Moonglow collapses an era into a single life and a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most daring, his most moving, his most Chabonesque.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Michael Rose on 02-01-17
Liked the [meandering] story; shameful narration
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
I would only mildly recommend "Moonglow" to friends and family. The structure of the book meandered to and fro, from one anecdote to the next over vastly different ages of the Grandfather's life. I strongly suspect Mr. Chabon used this structure deliberately as a comment on the meandering nature of one's life, but as an audiobook, it was tough to get into a rhythm that motivates you to come back. On the whole, looking back, I did enjoy it, but it was a long slog. Let me also say that a recommendation would be difficult for me because the narration was very likely the worst I have ever come across on Audible. It wasn't the author's voice (which actually matched the story quite well), but his shameful mispronunciation of Hebrew and Yiddish words (i.e., "K'dish" instead of "Kaddish"; "Shal" instead of "Shul"). For as often as these words appeared in the book, the narrator or the producers should have worked a little harder to get them right.
What did you like best about this story?
The story does cover a fascinating period in American history and speaks to the glory of the greatest generation. There is an element of nostalgia to the story that I enjoyed, and I also really liked the exploration of what made the Grandfather a compelling character, a worthy contributor to, and certain member of, that greatest generation. The Grandfather was a wonderful, fully fleshed out character, and in the final analysis, I did enjoy the time I got to spend with him.
Who would you have cast as narrator instead of George Newbern?
Mr. Newbern's voice was well suited to the story, as I wrote above. That said, his mis-pronunciation of Hebrew and Yiddish words very nearly ruined the book for me. So to answer the question, anyone who could both embody the unique voices in Mr. Chabon's book, while getting the pronunciation right of all of the book's words, would be my choice.
Do you think Moonglow needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?
Moonglow was a great self-contained story that reached a satisfying end for me. I do not see the need for a sequel.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
By lisa cole on 12-22-16
Loved the book. Winced at the pronunciation.
Any additional comments?
The narrator was great with the exception of those words that were unfamiliar to him. There were some egregious errors, including his pronunciation of "Kaddish" and the drug estradiol, which made me cringe each and every time they came up. I wish he had asked for a lifeline or googled the words before performing this book.
35 of 37 people found this review helpful