Finding Moon Themes
While he sets Finding Moon in a location far from the American Southwest, Hillerman draws on some themes common to his other novels. One of the most important of these is the need for understanding among people of different cultures.
The novel traces Moon's attempt to locate in Cambodia the child of Ricky, his deceased younger brother, and a Cambodian woman, now also dead. Moon is anxious to find the infant girl for many reasons—not the least of these being his mother's intense desire for a grandchild— but he is particularly concerned that the child will suffer because of her mixed parentage. He is told that in Southeast Asia, such children, especially those born of unions between Americans and Asians, were despised. As one character puts it, "In Asia people are very proud. They don't like those of other races. The Khemers don't like the Laotians, and the Laotians don't like the Thais, and the Vietnamese don't like the Montagnards, and nobody likes people who are mixed." He did not want his niece to suffer within such a deep system of prejudice.
Meanwhile, as Moon begins his search in the Philippines, where his niece was supposed to have been deposited after being flown out of Cambodia, he meets Osa van Winjgaarden, a woman of Dutch heritage who had lived her life in Asia. Like Moon, she is trying to locate a lost relative, her brother, who serves as a missionary in Cambodia, in order to save him from Pol Pot's regime. As Moon and she work together to sneak first into Vietnam and then Cambodia, they gradually realize that, despite their cultural differences, they love each other. Like his brother Ricky's relationship with his Cambodian wife, Moon's love for Osa symbolizes for Hillerman the possibility of multicultural understanding, a major theme in most of his novels.
A second theme, that of guilt and redemption, also functions in the novel. Moon has suffered all his life from guilt that resulted from two major sources. While in the army, he had gotten drunk, stolen an army vehicle, and wrecked it, killing his best friend in the process. He felt deeply responsible for this tragedy. But that was only one cause of his guilt. When the army charged him with several felonies that could result in a twenty-year prison term, Moon and his mother did not have the resources to mount a strong defense. To save him from such harsh punishment, his mother married the wealthy Dr. Morick, who bored her but had wealth and political connections powerful enough to arrange to have Moon's charges reduced so that he was only fined and discharged from the service. Because of this sequence of events, Moon felt that he was a failure, especially in his mother's eyes, and it is not until he meets Father Julian, a Catholic priest who befriends him, that Moon begins to expiate his guilt. It is through two long conversations with the priest that Moon comes to realize that his sense of failure was largely self imposed.