Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Julie's Review: A Good American

Summary: An uplifting novel about the families we create and the places we call home. It is 1904. When Frederick and Jette must flee her disapproving mother, where better to go than America, the land of the new? Originally set to board a boat to New York, at the last minute, they take one destined for New Orleans instead ("What's the difference? They're both new"), and later find themselves, more by chance than by design, in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. Not speaking a word of English, they embark on their new life together. Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf. A Good American is narrated by Frederick and Jette's grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors' story, comes to realize he doesn't know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James's family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American. And, in the process, Frederick and Jette's progeny sometimes discover more about themselves than they had bargained for. Poignant, funny, and heartbreaking, A Good American is a novel about being an outsider-in your country, in your hometown, and sometimes even in your own family. It is a universal story about our search for home. ~amazon.com

Review:  How does a Brit write the quintessential American novel? Easy, he's an immigrant himself and has a love for this country that is evident in his writing.  A Good American is a novel that one won't forget and will come back to again and again. I was immediately swept up in the love story of Frederick and Jette. How could any girl resist a man who sang Opera? It is this love and devotion to each other that sets the journey of this family on their way to America. The story is told by the grandson of Frederick and Jette, James. For me, he was the perfect storyteller. He was honest and flawed.

What develops is a family that has trials and tribulations for generations but yet finds that the strength to persevere comes from the ties they have to each other. What binds them together is their history and in the end their love for one another. We see 3 generations of this family through James' eyes as he reflects back on life and how their family came to be in Beatrice, Missouri. The family experiences many of the major American historical events personally and in ways that will sometimes change the path of their lives. There are two things that hold constant: music and food. I loved how these two things were an integral part of their lives; one because of Frederick and the other because of Jette.

There are several moments in the novel when I found myself smiling and laughing reading one paragraph and the next paragraph my heart was torn apart. It is a rare author who can make you feel different emotions so quickly without making it feel like a ploy; Alex George does it extremely well.

I can't say enough great things about this book! I didn't really cry throughout the book, but as I closed the book and thought about my own grandmother(s) and grandfather(s), I found myself moved to tears. It is the kind of book that will inspire you to look into your own family's history and to start questioning your own place in your family. I could gush and gush about this book, but seriously just go and read it for yourself. I'm certain you will agree with me.

Mr. George also has a wonderful playlist on his website that speaks to the importance of music throughout the book. If you are looking for a truly remarkable novel that touches on family, love and American history, then look no further than A Good American. This is one book that I will be pushing on people to read. (I already told my dad to download it to his Kindle).

Final Take: 5/5



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