Michael Chabon was able to determine a little bit about his family history, and found some of it to be intriguing, but not quite exciting enough for a memoir. Then, wishing there were some more interesting facts, or at least interesting mysteries, he began to spin a tale.
Of course, I could be wrong and it could all be Bologna.
What Chabon does pull off is the intricately woven, dappled, and complicated history of an American family, and how their history makes the inheritors of that legacy what they are today, whether its actually the author's history or not, doesn't really matter.
Chabon peppers the story with 'facts' that at least seem to give the story an anchor in reality, and of course, he's told the story in first person, stepping back and forth in time from chapter to chapter, some of them in the present day, or recent past, in which he (or the narrator) is a character himself.
The story Chabon has spun, centers on the life of his maternal grandfather, a German Jew, ex-US military intelligence officer, from New Jersey, who meets his wife at temple function, where she is being held out like bait in a bear trap by gaggle of women who'd like her to meet someone else. Actually the women are dying to introduce her to Chabon's grand uncle, the newly-minted, handsome young rabbi. Due to a slight miscalculation when the two brothers enter, its Chabon's grandfather, and not the rabbi, who meets his future grandmother. And it becomes pretty clear that the rabbi brother wouldn't have stood a chance.
The story pops between their early romance, his grandmother's history in Europe and her escape from the Nazis, his grandfather's work in Germany at the end of the war, searching for Nazi rockets, and his lifelong love of rockets and space travel. There are tiny details, tics, hobbies, loves, hates, tastes, obsessions, secrets, habits, and beliefs that makes us what we are, and Chabon has built his characters brick by brick by examining these traits and how they color what people do. This reminded me of Philip Roth's American Pastoral. A family history is built on stories, and Chabon has strung this family's stories together in a way which reminds us of our own, and therefore tells the story of all of us.
I think this book showed up on a lot of must-read lists. My oldest gave this book to me as a Christmas gift; thanks honey!
Read this book.