Sunday, January 1, 2017

Moonglow, by Michael Chabon

"Vonce ze rockets are up, who cares where they come down?  That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.  So goes the old Tom Lehrer song, and Michael Chabon pretty much agrees with Lehrer’s assessment of the rocket scientist in his faux memoir, Moonglow.  As the narrator’s grandfather is dying in 1989, the palliative drugs loosen his tongue and the famously reticent man tells his grandson the story of his life.  It has been an unusually eventful one.  The occasional footnote adds verisimilitude to the novel, as does the appearance of real people and the events during World War II that led to the “capture” of von Braun by the Americans.  Von Braun’s knowledge, vision and skills (along with those of other former Nazis, -- “Nazis, Schmatzies, says Wernher von Braun”) were key to America’s successful moon landings in the late sixties.  Sharing a fascination with the possibility, and later the actuality of space travel with von Braun, the grandfather’s wartime experiences and later work on the periphery of NASA put him in the position of admiring and envying the work of a man whose moral compass is turned toward expediency.  The vivid, in all senses, portrait of the grandfather’s wife, a French refugee with a complicated background and harrowing mental illness, is the other linchpin of the story.  Chabon’s imagination is remarkable and although this book isn’t, in my opinion, the masterpiece that The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay is, it is very good indeed.  428 pp.

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