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A Moment in the Sun

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  547 ratings  ·  148 reviews
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 gre ...more
Hardcover, 955 pages
Published May 17th 2011 by McSweeney's Publishing
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Kirkus Best Books of 2011
25th out of 88 books — 174 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Seamus Thompson
True story: whenever I finish a book that I have not simply enjoyed but have truly loved reading, I follow the same simple ritual. I slowly close the book, hold it in both hands so I can squeeze the pages together between the boards, and then press my lips to the front cover. It has been awhile since I kissed a book but I planted a big smacker on John Sayles’ latest novel A Moment in the Sun.

What can I say about this incredible, accomplished novel that won’t sound like the usual book jacket bull
...more
Jonfaith
There was an element of Papa's dictum in my reading of John Sayles' doorstop qua cinder block of a narrative, it sat gradually until suddenly I devoured its 1000 pages. My cheekiest nod to the novel is that its as if the Chums of Chance (Pynchon's creations in Against The Day) chose to chronicle American Race and Imperium. That said, Sayles never appears overwrought nor resigned to types or constructs in establishing his dramatic web.

As many may know, I once considered African-American history t
...more
Hadrian
A historical fiction book that's nearly a thousand pages long? And it was positively reviewed by Vollmann and published by McSweeney's? Sign me up!

A big sweeping tour of the United States in the late 19th/early 20th century, taking place in the late Reconstruction era, the gold rush, and the Spanish-American war and Philippine insurgency. I was not too surprised to learn that the author is also a famed movie director - many of the scenes would transition quite well to film, although the book its
...more
Ron
This will be the briefest review of one of the longest books I’ve ever read. At 955 pages, Sayles’ novel set at the turn of the last century comes in just short of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. The difference between the two is that there’s not a single long-winded passage in Sayles. And there’s more packed into it per square inch even than McMurtry’s multi-character, multi-plotted cattle drive novel.

Like Lonesome Dove, I read this one because it comes square in the middle of a historical peri
...more
Oriana
Wow you guys. This one, too, is going to blow your minds. It's tough not to compare it to The Instructions , the last 1000-plus-pager from the inimitable McSweeney's, but such a comparison would be meaningless, as I think it would be pretty difficult for these books to be more different. It's still way pre-pub, so I don't want to spill any secrets, but obvs this book, like everything McSwy's does, is phenomenal. Get it on them to-read shelves already!!

***

Whoa, William T. Vollmann reviewed this!
...more
Peter
This is an unforgettable book about America at the turn of the last century. Skillfully told and breathtaking in its scope.

I must say that the first half was totally engrossing, but it got a little tougher in the second half. I think whole chapters could have been left out. And yet the breadth of it is amazing, it's like you are soaking in the era. Gold rush, Spanish American War, yellow journalism, Cuba, the philippines, African American culture post Reconstruction, the white overthrow of the e
...more
Chris Blocker
Sep 21, 2011 Chris Blocker rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Chris by: Joseph Michael Owens
A Moment in the Sun is an epic novel that covers much ground. I agree with my friend David for his notion that “Tolstoy himself would have to be proud of Sayles for this one.” A Moment in the Sun certainly mirrors War and Peace in scope and subject (although I'm sure Tolstoy—especially in his later years—would have grave objections with some of the vulgarity in Sayles' work).

AMitS brings to fiction one of the more interesting time periods of American history. It begins n 1897, shortly before t
...more
James Murphy
A Moment in the Sun is a big sprawl of a novel at 955 pages focusing on s sliver of time at the turn of the last century, the era of the Spanish American War. At the heart of his story is American imperialism and racism. It seems to be his intention to illuminate American traits of the past we'd easily recognize as those of today. For the period around 1900 was the seedtime of American imperialism, manifest destiny spilled over the west coast into the Pacific. The sections of the novel dealing w ...more
Tim
"A Moment in the Sun" takes a fascinating, often spectacular, low-angle look at the underbelly of America in its growing pains as it heaves and flexes into the 20th century.

There. I did it. A first paragraph without mentioning author John Sayles' other, more well-known, job. But now it can't be helped. For those who didn't know, Sayles is a top-notch movie writer/director, producing such fine films as "Eight Men Out" (my favorite), "Matewan," "Lone Star" and "Sunshine State." "A Moment in the Su
...more
Michael
I had this rated a four (because I never give anything a five) but changed to five because I don't like when people criticize John Sayles and I didn't want to do it. He essentially does exactly what I want in popular history and tries to appeal to the mainstream at the same time, and people just look for excuses not to read him or go see his movies. Yes the book does have many characters and plot lines, but you never get lost. It is long, but fun and not difficult. One negative review I read sai ...more
Sundry
Wow, what a great read. I heard about this book when John Sayles interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on his KCRW show Bookworm, and was instantly intrigued. http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/bw/b...

Sayles talked about the Spanish American War being one that our history books say we won, but which we don't brag about much...which made him suspicious.

Sayles introduces a lot of characters in the first chapters, and you have to just let it flow over you a bit and trust that you'll recognize the key p
...more
Martin
You say: Epic. I say: Endless.
You say: Sweeping. I say: Scattered.
You say: Rollicking. I say: the Opposite of Rollicking.

I can't explain how excited I was to find a copy of John Sayles' acclaimed new novel at a book fair in downtown Chicago for a reasonable price. It is both a huge and beautiful book -- kudos to the reliable McSweeney's Publishing house. (Although just about everybody who saw me reading had the same quip: "is that a Bible?") It's exciting to heft a big, epic, summertime book and
...more
Richard
I really admired this book. The topic, late 19th/early 20th century US, is fascinating and highly relevant today's political and cultural landscape and it needs to be examined more closely: the Spanish American War and the resulting occupation of the Phillipines, white southerners re-taking control of government after Reconstruction in an attempt to push back nascent African American political power, labor organization and rebellion as a response to the exploitative relationships inevitable in u ...more
John Strohm
Sayles did too much research for this book. Then he felt compelled to work all of it into a single novel; the result being that it's totally unwieldy. Sayles chooses to spin several concurrent plot threads which only loosely intertwine with each other. As one story gets interesting, you're shuffled off to another part of the world and a completely different cast of characters who you don't care about, or maybe can't remember since it's been 80 pages since you saw them last.

It's a shame that a bo
...more
Shawn Towner
A book that I've often seen described as Pynchonesque, but I think it's more like Dickens: lots of characters, lots of digressing subplots, and a sympathetic view of the lower classes and downtrodden. Unfortunately, not all of the characters and subplots are really all that interesting. I couldn't stand the Philippines parts, which is a shame because a trio of most enjoyable characters were crammed into the plot, rather than being able to operate on their own. Also, I just couldn't get into Sayl ...more
Kimberly
May 22, 2011 Kimberly is currently reading it
MANY THANKS to the fine proprietors of ATOMIC BOOKS, Benn and Rachel & their employers, who were kind enough to ask John Sayles to sign a personlazied, signed copy of this book for me, when I called & requested that because I was ill that night & could not make it to the Reading and Signing. Thanks guys and gals! :-)
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Nov 08, 2012 Nathan "N.R." Gaddis marked it as i-want-money
Recommended to Nathan "N.R." by: D
Laura C.
On a recent episode of Bravo’s “The Next Great Artist”, the participants were challenged to take a piece of thrift store kitsch and turn it into something remarkable. One artist began with a picture of a southern belle with real hair. He remade it into a commentary on the bondage of beauty, race, and money. In the end, he was voted off. The judges said it was an important topic, but that his work brought no new insights to the table. This cannot be said for John Sayles book, “A Moment in the Sun ...more
Carol
My rating for this book went from a 4 for fine writing, to a 3 for holding my interest, to a 2 for getting bored, so I settled on an average of 3 stars. First off, I must admit, I have a hard time with 900+ page books. I am over-eager to learn the conclusion quickly; I also like page-turners, that make me want to find out what happens next. This book rarely had me anxious to see what the next page brought.

I had hoped to learn more about the Spanish/American War, which I did, but it was not pres
...more
Linda
Don't read this book if you are an impatient person. It's nearly 1,000 pages long and not with the "big" print of books by Follett or the Game of Thrones. But it's a good book. The only reason I didn't rate it higher is that it got tiresome after a while.

Unlike my favorite Mallon and more like most historical fiction, these characters are actually experiencing historical events: the invasion of Cuba and the Philippines, the racist coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, the assassination of Presiden
...more
Eric Malone
Set at the turn of the 20th-century, A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles weighs in a hefty 950 pages. One might think a historical novel of this length might be a little tedious to read, but this is not the case with A Moment in the Sun. Sayles' writing is clear and engrossing, and you can certainly tell this novel is written by someone skilled with writing film screenplays.

That is not to say that this is a light, feel-good read; the characters are repeatedly subjected to the harshest treatment i
...more
Nick
So after renewing this book twice at the library, I had to return it after finishing only a bit over half. It's great, sprawling in every sense-language, characters, geography. I can't help but think it a little overwrought in some places. Some characters added only for color (and maybe to show off Sayles regional colloquial chops). Perhaps this shortcoming should should fall on the editor. All in all, this book coupled with We, The Drowned which I read right before this one, has really renewed ...more
Ryan Mishap
Despite the girth, this is not dense nor unruly and unmanageable, but a magnificent foray into the past through the lives of multiple characters across the county and the world. Whether the prose is beautiful, arch, stark, bemused, insistent, off-hand, or particularly descriptive, it was nearly always captivating.

The United States is exposed in all its side-show glory; a nation of hucksters,thieves, boasters, racists, jingoists, and psychopaths who view violence as an easy tool to get what one w
...more
Mike
How can I not like a book from a fellow Nelson Algren fan? Sayles spoke on his tour in my town and when asked what writers influenced him he simply replied, "It was Nelson Algren more than anyone." So, given my tainted soul, I also have to conclude that this is an excellent book about being a man in America. He gives short shrift to women in my opinion...not unlike Algren.

Somehow I never felt bogged down by his characters. There was some weariness after hearing about the many illnesses, physica
...more
Torie
John Sayles is a master at character development, and his perspective as a filmmaker meant that the cinematic quality of this epic novel was breathtaking. It's incredible to think about the amount of research that went into writing this book, spanning prospector culture in the Yukon, the history of cinema, the reverberations of the Spanish-American War, post-Reconstruction violence and insane Jim Crow injustices in the South...all of it happening in the span of the same few years. Some story lin ...more
Chamberk
i dunno what it is about long books that make me end up loving them but this is no exception. it's hard to give a succinct description as it's a big and sweeping epic- from the Yukon to the Philippines to New York - that follows many characters through about 5 years near the turn of the century. lots of crazy things happen - the bombing of the USS Maine and the resulting Spanish-American War, the assassination of McKinley, and a race riot in Wilmington NC (which was the most gripping part of the ...more
Wendy
Perhaps a better previous understanding of the time period would have made this book more enjoyable. To me it seemed disjointed. In some ways it came together in the end (955 pages later) but in other ways there were loose ends of that were never tied up. For example, I have no idea why a new character was introduced towards the end of the book. There was plenty of background info on the character but then it was never developed with any meaningful relationship to the rest of the book. Took me t ...more
Eddie
A great book. A long read but something in every paragraph and page. This chronicled several Black families, including the Talented Tenth, from Wilmington, NC and elsewhere and their involvement in the first big imperialist war of the US in Cuba, The Philippines , Guam and Puerto Rico. The novel could have been written with Iraq and Afghanistan in mind with soldiers generally not knowing what and who they are fighting for. Sayles' descriptions of the era and the war are excellent. I had the feel ...more
Paula
If Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States were a novel, it might be the long version of Sayles's A Moment in the Sun. Not that the novel at hand is the short version. At 955 pages, A Moment in the Sun is capacious, to say the least. Set during the years that for half of my life we called The Turn of the Century (1896-1902)the novel begins with the gold rush in the Yukon & ends with the assassination of President McKinley & the U.S. takeover of the Philippines after the Spani ...more
Marty Selnick
Long, long, long! Epic about the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Quite a pivotal time historically. Really good read if you are looking for a 1000 page book to lose yourself in.
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John Thomas Sayles is an independent film director, screenwriter, novelist and short story writer who frequently plays small roles in his own and other indie films.
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