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About John Sayles’
A Moment In the Sun.


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To pre-order A Moment in the Sun, click here.

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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 recalls 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.

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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, was completed in 2010.

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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 Sayle’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)

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“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.”
Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

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“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’ 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)

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John Sayles will be embarking on a cross-country road trip book tour this spring, and there is a good chance he will be coming to a town near you. All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise specified.

April 30, Oblong Books, Rhinebeck, NY. 7:30 pm.

May 2, Philadelphia Free Library, Philadelphia, PA. 7:30 pm.

May 3, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA.

May 4, Gotham Center @ CUNY, New York, NY. 6:30 pm. (Tickets are $8.00.)

May 5, Atomic Books, Baltimore, MD.

May 6, Busboys & Poets (14 and V Location), Washington, DC. 6:00 pm.

May 7, Malaprops, Asheville, NC. 7:00 pm. (This event is free, but ticketed. Contact Malaprops about getting tickets.)

May 9, Carmichael’s (Frankfort location), Louisville, KY. 7:00 pm.

May 10, Square Books, Oxford, MS. 5:00 pm.

May 11, Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA. 6:00 pm.

May 13, BookPeople, Austin, TX.

May 14, El Paso Public Library, El Paso, TX.

May 15, Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM. 3:00 pm.

May 19, ALOUD at the LA Public Library, Los Angeles, CA. 7:00 pm. (This event is free but ticketed. Tickets are available via the LA Public Library).

May 20, Chaucer’s), Santa Barbara, CA. 7:00 pm.

May 21, Diesel Books, Oakland, CA. 7:00 pm.

May 22, Tosca, San Francisco, CA (Sponsored by Green Apple Books).

May 24: Powells, Portland, OR. 7:30 pm.

May 25: Elliott Bay, Seattle, WA.

May 27: Sam Weller’s, Salt Lake City, UT. 7:00 pm.

May 29: Tattered Cover, Denver, CO.

May 31: Magers & Quinn, Minneapolis, MN. 7:30pm.

June 1: Prairie Lights, Iowa City, IA.

June 2: Pudd’nhead Books, St. Louis, MO. (Note: this event will be off-site. Time and location TBD.)

June 4: Printer’s Row Literary Festival, Chicago, IL.

June 7: Open Door Bookstore, Schenectady, NY. (Note: this event will be off-site. Time and location TBD.)