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The jacket to “Moonglow” accurately describes Michael Chabon’s novel:

“A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir.”

“Moonglow” is a fictionalized biography of Mr. Chabon’s maternal grandfather, who reminisces about his life before and after World War II to his grandson. It has all the embellishments of a fish story. Reading it is like watching the 1950s CBS dramatic news program with Walter Cronkite, ” You Were There”.

His grandfather was fired from his job to make room for Alger Hiss. His grandfather was sent to Germany to capture and return Wernher Von Braun, but only manages to unearth his plans for the V-2 rocket program.

It is not all heroic imagination, but a slice of life living in pre-war Jewish Philadelphia and a Florida retirement home. Space,and in particular the development of rockets, is at the historical heart of this novel. Chabon recognizes he is liberally borrowing and gives credit to Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” and apologies to those who wrote non-fiction and biographical accounts about the V-2 program and Mr. von Braun. He is unsympathetic to von Braun about the use of slave labor in the development of the V-2 program, and yet gives him the benefit of the doubt as a scientist.

“The poor bastard! He had built a ship to loft us to the very edge of heaven, and they had used it as a messenger of hell.”

I read Mr. Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” . It chronicled the comic book industry in its golden age. I think that as a boy Mr. Chabon was an avid reader of comic books and had a fascination with space. I am likely mistaken and overlook the vivid imagination and research of an accomplished author.

Jewish American identity and a bit of nostalgia runs through Mr. Chabon’s books. His family’s life and experiences also find a way into some of his novels. I prefer “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” to “Moonglow”, but both are entertaining, and make good summer reads.

 

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