Ann Tatlock, |
I'll Watch the Moon
(Bethany House, 2003)
Ann Tatlock brings a slice of post-World War II America to life in her poignant, bittersweet novel I'll Watch the Moon.
Nova Tierney shares her childhood memories of one pivotal year in her life: the year her beloved 13-year-old brother Dewey contracts polio and ends up in an iron lung. It is a year of tumult and confusion, a year in which Nova, 9, struggles with loneliness and fear, but also witnesses a powerful demonstration of love.
It's easy for young Nova to get overlooked in her Aunt Dortha's boarding house in St. Paul, Minn. The adults living there have their own lives and are usually too busy to give the little girl much attention, outside of her mother and Aunt Dortha, both of whom are very busy as well. The one exception is Josef Karski, a gentle man from Poland who came to the United States after the war. He takes the time to listen to Nova, to talk to and comfort her. He does much of the same for Nova's mother Catherine, a woman embittered by the many betrayals in her life. Nova, who longs for a father more than anything else, hopes that Josef will fill that role in their lives.
Dewey is a budding astronomer whose life's dream is to walk on the moon. Confined by his iron lung, he is cut off from his beloved night sky. Throughout the year, Nova continues to watch the moon for Dewey and reports to him through letters, since she is not allowed to visit him.
Nova also learns that Josef is a concentration camp survivor who lost his entire family. In spite of the horrors he endured, he is able to extend himself to the people around himself, giving lovingly with no thought of reciprocation. When a crisis erupts, he gives of himself completely and without thought for his personal safety, demonstrating his enormous capacity for love.
Tatlock sets her story into a framework where an adult Nova is reminiscing with the advantage of having heard her mother's stories about Josef as well. This allows Tatlock to include scenes and conversations to which young Nova would not be privy. At the same time, she captures Nova's 9-year-old voice and mindset, making her a believable and appealing character.
The supporting characters are also well-defined, and the transition they make from boarding house residents to an extended family is remarkable and heart-warming.
I'll Watch the Moon is a love story, although not, as Nova is quick to point out, a love story in the conventional sense. Rather it is a textured, lovely portrait of unconditional love for others overcoming adversity and hatred.