The Moonlight Palace is narrated by a teenager by the name of Agnes "Aggie" Hussein. Aggie lives in Singapore in the 1920's in a dilapidated palace called the Kampong Glam. The Hussein family was once a kind of royalty and the palace was once an opulent relic handed to her family in exchange for the family handing Singapore over to the British. Now the family lives in poverty, the palace is in ruins, and Aggie is facing the very real possibility that she may lose her family home; a home that is ingrained in her blood.
The palace is full of eccentric characters spanning a wide gambit of nationalities ranging from her Uncle Chachi, to Nei-Nei down (who is Chinese) and British Grandfather. Aggie's family comes to life with Rosenberg's ability to make them all quirky and memorable. To make ends meet the family scrapes by on British Grandfather's military pension and the pay from boarders. The palace itself is a character and most of the story centers around the outside forces that threaten to separate the family from their home. Rosenberg describes the palace in such stunning detail that I could see all of the leaking ceilings and broken chairs, and yet I could also still see the underlying beauty. Turns out Rosenberg based the Kampong Glam on a real place. Here is a photo of the Istana Kampong Glam before restoration in 2001:
As most of the adults in the story are elderly, Aggie takes it upon herself to keep things pieced together which makes this a coming of age story. Aggie is a teenager though, so her experience of the outside world is incredibly limited by her family's protection and her naivety. Despite the blinders of her age and innocence Aggie employs bravery and unshakable compassion and loyalty. I couldn't help but admire her willingness to do whatever it took to keep her family together.
The narrative wanders a bit, and I feel like this is characteristic of a young adult narrator, however, there were times that Aggie felt more like a witness rather than a character. As a narrator she tells a great story, but there are entire sections where she is just focusing on other characters and happenings and I never feel like she is rooted in the scene. The other issue I had was with the story's place in history. Yes, there were time appropriate indicators, but it never felt like a story that took place in the 1920's. I did feel the Singapore culture, but the historical relevance felt a little thin.
Overall, The Moonlight Palace is an enjoyable read full of characters with charming and definitive personalities that make them feel alive.