A Good American, by Alex George.
We are all immigrants, a glorious confection of races and beliefs, united by the rock that we live on. As the years wash over us and new generations march into the future, family histories are subsumed into this greater narrative. We become, simply, Americans. - from an ARE of A Good American -
Frederick and Jette Meisenheimer board a ship from Germany to America one day in 1904. They are escaping Jette's family who do not approve of the couple marrying, and they are moving toward a new life on the other side of the world. By chance, they end up docking in New Orleans, and then fate brings them to the small town of Beatrice, Missouri where they settle down to raise their family. For Frederick, America is a land of dreams and opportunity and he soon opens his own restaurant. Jette mourns the loss of her home in Germany and struggles to adjust to her new country. As the years pass, children are born, grow up and start families of their own. Loved ones die and life goes on through the tumultuous years of WWI, Prohibition, WWII, the Great Depression, and even the assassination of JFK. Narrated by James Meisenheimer, the grandson of Jette and Frederick, A Good American reveals the evolution of one immigrant family over a span of one hundred years.
Alex George's debut novel introduces readers to a charming cast of characters: a music teacher with an eye for young boys, a terrifying dwarf lawyer, a black musician from New Orleans who comes to Beatrice looking for work and then stays, an Evangelical minister who believes a young boy is the second coming of Christ, and a town hero who won't stop growing. At its core, A Good American is about the ties which bind families together within the bigger context of a community.
Music plays a large role in the Meisenheimer family from page one when Frederick serenades Jette to win her heart, and later Frederick's son, Joseph (whose voice is silenced by the fear of performing in public), creates a one-family musical group with his quartet of sons. The jazz age comes to Beatrice with Lomax, a gregarious and big-hearted black man who wins over the Meisenheimers with his kindness.
Amy Einhorn Books is known for its heartwarming novels filled with somewhat quirky characters, and George's story fits comfortably next to books such as The Weird Sisters and The Postmistress. Along with a great cast of characters, the novel is a poignant and funny travel through history on the coattails of one family. A Good American strikes that difficult balance between humor and sadness, reality and imagination.
Towards the end of the novel, there is an interesting plot twist when James uncovers a well-kept family secret that stuns him and has him questioning all he thinks he knows about his family. It is a revelation which helps define the central theme of the novel: how do we define family, and how does our family shape who we become?
Alex George has written a sentimental and refreshing first novel which will appeal to readers who love historical fiction and family sagas. This is a universal novel about what it means to part of a community and family. Get ready to be swept into a story which is truly a delight.
- Quality of Writing: Four stars
- Characters: Four and a half stars
- Plot: Four stars
Overall Rating: Four stars out of five.
FTC Disclosure: This novel was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".