Summary and book reviews of A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles

A Moment in the Sun

by John Sayles

A Moment in the Sun
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2011, 968 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2012, 968 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Micah Gell-Redman

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About this Book

Book Summary

It's 1897. Gold has been discovered in the Yukon. New York is under the sway of Hearst and Pulitzer. And in a few months, an American battleship will explode in a Cuban harbor, plunging the U.S. into war... This is history rediscovered through the lives of the people who made it happen.

It's 1897. Gold has been discovered in the Yukon. New York is under the sway of Hearst and Pulitzer. And in a few months, an American battleship will explode in a Cuban harbor, plunging the U.S. into war. Spanning five years and half a dozen countries, this is the unforgettable story of that extraordinary moment: the turn of the twentieth century, as seen by one of the greatest storytellers of our time.

Shot through with a lyrical intensity and stunning detail that recall Doctorow and Deadwood both, A Moment in the Sun takes the whole era in its sights - from the white-racist coup in Wilmington, North Carolina to the bloody dawn of U.S. interventionism in the Philippines. Beginning with Hod Brackenridge searching for his fortune in the North, and hurtling forward on the voices of a breathtaking range of men and women: Royal Scott, an African American infantryman whose life outside the military has been destroyed; Diosdado Concepcíon, a Filipino insurgent fighting against his country's new colonizers; and more than a dozen others, Mark Twain and President McKinley's assassin among them. This is a story as big as its subject: history rediscovered through the lives of the people who made it happen.

GOLD FEVER

Hod is the first on deck to see smoke.

"That must be it," he says, pointing ahead to where the mountains rise up and pinch together to close off the channel. "Dyea."

There is a rush then, stampeders running to the fore and jostling for position, climbing onto the bales of cargo lashed to the deck to see over the crush, herding at a rumor as they have since the Utopia pulled away from the cheering throngs in Seattle, panicked that someone else might get there first. Store clerks and farmers, teamsters and railroad hands, failed proprietors and adventurous college boys and scheming hucksters and not a few fellow refugees from the underground. Hod has done every donkey job to be had in a mine, timbering, mucking ore with shovel and cart, laying track, single-jacking shoot holes with a hand auger. He knows how to look for colors in a riverbank, knows what is likely worth the sweat of digging out and what isn't. But the look in the eyes of the men crowding him up the gangplank...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I surrender. To explain in a few paragraphs a story that ranges from the frozen gold fields of the Yukon to the yellow fever swelter of Cuban hillsides, from the racial turmoil of post-Reconstruction North Carolina to the most humble, remote village in the Philippines, is a fool's errand. So let me dispense with any attempt at summary and cut straight to the chase - if an unrelenting commitment to showing action as it unfolds in vivid (and even painful) detail excites you, read John Sayles's new novel.   (Reviewed by Micah Gell-Redman).

Full Review Members Only (429 words).

Media Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer

Like all Sayles films and novels, it's drenched in a detailed, loving awareness of time and place.

San Francisco Chronicle

Sayles is a terrific writer. His breathtaking precision and attention to detail can make E.L. Doctorow's historical novels look puny and slapdash by comparison. His ability to map the intersections of scores of plots and hundreds of fictional and real-life characters is truly stunning

New York Times Book Review

[A Moment in the Sun's] true importance lies not in its rearview relevance but in its commitment to recalling in heroic detail a little-known and contradictory historical moment, a sunny time of American pride but also of hubris in sun-beaten locales… Sayles is not a neutral channel, but in his respect for facts both documented and extrapolated, he is devoted to offering us a new understanding of the past.

The Onion A.V. Club

Pick up McSweeney's gorgeous mock-leather-and-gilt tome - taking care to lift with your knees - and you'll find that the 950-page book moves far more quickly than its bulk might suggest.

Newsweek/The Daily Beast

Absolutely vivid... Sayles's creative strengths are on full display.

Chicago Tribune

Editor's Choice. John Sayles may be better known as a filmmaker (Lone Star, Eight Men Out, and my favorite, Return of the Secaucus 7) than as a novelist, but this drama spanning five years, and stretching from Cuba to the Philippines, proves him to be a great fiction writer. The conscience that infuses his earlier work is evident in this novel, and if you're looking for a summer reading challenge with a big payoff, this may be your book.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A long time in coming, with an ending that's one of the most memorable in recent literature. A superb novel, as grand in its vision as one of President McKinley's dreams - but not for a moment, as Sayles writes of that figure, 'empty of thought, of emotion.'

Booklist

Starred Review. Crackling with rare historical details, spiked with caustic humor, and fueled by incandescent wrath over racism, sexism, and serial injustice against working people, Sayles' hard-driving yet penetrating and compassionate saga explicates the 'fever dream' of commerce, the crimes of war, and the dream of redemption.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Though known best as a filmmaker (Eight Men Out), Sayles is also an accomplished novelist (Union Dues), whose latest will stand among the finest work on his impressive résumé. Weighing in at nearly 1,000 pages, the behemoth recalls E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, Pynchon's Against the Day, and Dos Passos's USA trilogy...

NPR's Morning Edition

If you only read one book this summer, make it A Moment in the Sun.

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Coxey's Army

In John Sayles's A Moment in the Sun, Hod Brackenridge's colorful past is marked most deeply by his participation in a working class uprising. A group of men, inspired by Populist rhetoric, hijack a train car in an attempt to bring their economic grievances to the nation's capital.

Turn-of-the-century America was fraught with class conflicts of this sort, some of which exploded in violent strikes and protests. In 1894, Jacob Coxey - a wealthy Ohio businessman - headed an "Industrial Army" of diverse men and women, who were dissatisfied with "the federal government's inaction in the face of economic crisis."

Coxey's Army

Though many promised to march on Washington DC, only a small number fulfilled the commitment. "Coxey himself, ...

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