"All his life, Elijah Goldstein has idolized his charismatic Uncle Poxl. Intensely magnetic, cultured and brilliant, Poxl takes Elijah under his wing, introducing him to opera and art and literature. But when Poxl publishes a memoir of how he was forced to leave his home north of Prague at the start of WWII and then avenged the deaths of his parents by flying RAF bombers over Germany during the war, killing thousands of German citizens, Elijah watches as the carefully constructed world his uncle has created begins to unravel. As Elijah discovers the darker truth of Poxl's past, he comes to understand that the fearless war hero he always revered is in fact a broken and devastated man who suffered unimaginable losses from which he has never recovered. Daniel Torday's debut novel, The Last Flight of Poxl West, beautifully weaves together what it means to be a family in the shadow of war-- to love, to lose, and to heal"--
Poxl did not pilot a bomber over Germany in WW II as he claimed in his popular memoir about a Jewish war hero who managed to exact some measure of revenge on the Nazi’s for killing his family. It seems clear that Poxyl was not just misremembering his heroic role in the war, but most of his memoir is not about that, but instead tells the story of his two wartime romances: a Dutch prostitute (Francoise) and a British nurse (Glynnis), both of whom he treated poorly and lost.
Another theme of the book involves truth and memory and their roles in storytelling. Clearly, tales of self-dramatization in storytelling can take on an aura of truth, especially if told often enough and when the people involved become famous. However, these fictions have the potential to backfire resulting in a loss of trust and credibility (e.g., the recent embarrassing revelations about the wartime exploits of Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly). Although Poxyl does not express any regrets about what he did, it did destroy his important relationship with Eli, whose perspectives were revealed in a second narrative viewed as an adult from the present. Eli seems to regret not repairing his relationship with Poxl before he passed away.
Torday’s writing in “The Last Flight of Poxl West” demonstrates considerable skill although the memoir portions seemed to lack detail. Torday needed to show the memoir was a bestseller and well received by the critics to make Poxyl’s fall even more dramatic. However, the narrative that made up the bulk of the book told a rather mundane tale of wartime romance and loss.
There is something so tender in the way this is written, the characters so likable. The art of storytelling, the interpretation of memory, experiences and regrets, the importance of relationships and the detriment of fame, are what I kept thinking about after finishing this book. It is difficult for me to explain why I liked this book as much as I did. It is a quiet book, a book full of regret and some deceit and yet it made me realize how fragile relationships are, how we need to take better care of and appreciate them. Poxl's war experiences are his own, but memories and relationships are universal, this book made me think and that is a good thing and enough of a thing for one book to do. Good and poignant read.
ARC from NetGalley.