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 the unforgettable story of that extraordinary moment: the turn of the twentieth century, as seen by one of the greatest storytellers of our time.

Spanning five years and half a dozen countries, A Moment in the Sun takes the whole era in its sights—from the white-racist coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, to the first stirrings of the motion-picture industry, to the bloody dawn of U.S. interventionism in Cuba and the Philippines. The result of years of writing and research, the book is built on the voices of a breathtaking range of men and women—Hod Brackenridge, a gold-chaser turned Army recruit; Royal Scott, an African American infantryman whose life outside the military has been destroyed; Diosdado Concepcíon, a Filipino insurgent preparing to fight against his country’s new colonizers; and more than a dozen others, Mark Twain, Damon Runyon, and President William McKinley’s assassin among them. Shot through with a lyrical intensity and stunning detail that recall Doctorow and Deadwood both, this is a story as big as its subject: history rediscovered through the lives of the people who made it happen.


John Sayles’s previous novels include Pride of the Bimbos, Los Gusanos, and the National Book Award-nominated Union Dues. He has directed seventeen feature films, including Matewan, Lone Star, and Eight Men Out, and received a John Steinbeck Award, a John Cassavetes Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Writer’s Guild of America, and two Academy Award nominations. His latest film, Amigo, will open in the Philippines in July and in the U.S. in August.
John Sayles


Independent booksellers have chosen this book as an Indie Next List Great Read for May.

“A brutal picaresque complete with melancholy whores, militaristic robber barons, desperate cutthroat prospectors, and puppet soldiers… His period slang rings dead-on perfect. [Sayles’s] great achievement is to illuminate the parallel between imperialism and racism in turn-of-the-century America—indeed, to shine so glaring a light on it that even if we screw our eyes shut, the horror remains.”
— William T. Vollmann, Bookforum

“Independent filmmaker John Sayles has managed to create a work that is both cinematic and literary in its scope and style—a blend so entrancing that you could polish off its 955 pages in one long weekend. It begins in 1897 during the Yukon gold rush and takes us into the Spanish-American war, the Filipino fight for independence, racial injustice and the plight of working people throughout the United States. Short, powerful chapters follow four unconnected characters to create a mosaic of America as a nascent superpower, underscoring the personal and cultural consequences of its ambitions. If you only read one book this summer, make it A Moment in the Sun.”
— Lucia Silva, NPR’s Morning Edition

“Following four major characters and dozens of sharply drawn smaller ones, Moment jumps from a horse thief’s prison break to a Filipino revolutionary secretly photographing a government execution, creating a story so big that even the larger-than-life characters that Sayles weaves into his narrative are dwarfed by comparison. 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.”
— Sam Adams, The Onion A.V. Club

“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. Sayles tells a story of American racism and American imperialism at the turn of the century, through a kaleidoscope of imaginary and real-life characters, including Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst and Mark Twain.”
— Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune (Editor’s Choice)

“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.”
— Adam Langer, the San Francisco Chronicle

A Moment in the Sun’s moment is now, a strapping 935 pages, a sprawling U.S.A.-style novel that, something like the John Dos Passos classic, follows a group of characters in parallel tracks as they traverse the America of 1897, taking in the Yukon gold rush, the Spanish-American War in the Philippines, and the advent of movies. Like all Sayles films and novels, it’s drenched in a detailed, loving awareness of time and place.”
Philadelphia Inquirer

“Absolutely vivid… Sayles’s creative strengths are on full display.”
Newsweek/The Daily Beast

“Noted novelist/director Sayles (Union Dues, 2005) turns in an epic of Manifest Destiny—and crossed destinies—so sweeping and vast that even he would have trouble filming it.

“The year is 1897. As Sayles’s cat-squasher of a book opens, a greenhorn arrival at the Alaska gold fields meets a man named Joe Raven, who ‘is something called a Tlingit and there is no bargaining with him.’ As so often happens in Sayles’s filmic narratives, the native man possesses wisdom that is crucial for survival—but, alas, too few of the Anglo newcomers, sure of the superiority of American civilization, are willing to admit his usefulness. Hod, the newcomer, is assured that American civilization will come through for him: remarks a fellow miner, ‘Got a steady man in the White House who understands there are fortunes to be made if the government will just step out of the way and let us at em.’ Holy shades of Ron Paul, Batman. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific, a young Filipino, Diosdado Concepción, is preparing himself for battle against the colonizers of his island; he is brash enough that a fellow fighter is moved to caution, ‘I am a patriot… but not a suicide.’ Farther away still are two African-American soldiers, Royal Scott and Junior Lunceford, who are discovering just how racist the America of the turn of the century can be. Sayles pulls all these characters onto a huge global stage, setting them into motion as America goes to war against Spain and takes its first giant step toward becoming a world power. The narrative is full of historical lessons of the Howard Zinn/Studs Terkel radical-revisionist school, but Sayles is too good a writer to be a propagandist; his stories tell their own lessons, and many will be surprises (who knew that there were lynchings in Brooklyn as well as the Deep South?).

“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.’”
Kirkus (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, tracking mostly unconnected characters whose collective stories create a vast, kaleidoscopic panorama of the turn of the last century. Hod Brackenridge is a miner who gets swindled in the Alaskan gold rush, is strong-armed into a boxing match, and ends up on the run after his opponent dies in the ring. Diosdado, son of a Spanish diplomat, turns against his country and the United States to fight for independence in the Philippines. The most emotionally connected story line involves the black American soldiers who breeze through fighting in Cuba but get stuck in a quagmire in the Philippines while their families back home in Wilmington, N.C., endure a campaign of murder and intimidation that forces an affluent and educated black family out of their home and into poverty in New York City. Naturally, there are cameos—Mark Twain, president McKinley—and period details aplenty that help alleviate the occasional slow patches—indeed, Hod’s story line loses steam toward the end—but the flaws and muck of this big, rangy novel are part of what make it so wonderful.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“His most spectacular work of fiction to date… Crackling with rare historical details, spiked with caustic humor, and fueled by incandescent wrath over racism, sexism, and serial injustice against working people, Sayles’s hard-driving yet penetrating and compassionate saga explicates the ‘fever dream’ of commerce, the crimes of war, and the dream of redemption.”
Booklist (starred review)

“The prolific indie auteur and author John Sayles—who over a four-decade career has directed 17 feature films, published three novels, and been nominated for two Academy Awards and one National Book Award—is a storyteller with a talent for illuminating political themes through probing character studies. Though his fourth novel, the 1,000-page opus A Moment in the Sun, spawned his Philippine-American War film Amigo (opening in August), the manuscript itself sat dormant until Dave Eggers and Jordan Bass selected it for McSweeney’s. An ambitious survey of U.S. imperialism on the eve of the 20th century, Sayles’s novel follows one brigade in the Philippines, interweaving stories of other fringes of American society, from the Yukon to the back streets of Manhattan, to shine light on the compromises that people and countries make in their quest to survive.”
— Madeline K.B. Ross, Interview magazine