I settled in to read A Good American by Alex George not quite sure what to expect. I knew that it was an extended novel, focusing on a family working to settle in America and adapt to changing times and family circumstances. I didn’t expect to have to keep turning to the back cover to remind myself that yes, this actually is a novel and not a memoir. It read far more like a memoir to me than a novel.
Jette and Frederick are content in Hanover in 1903, if not happy. They have found love together, although her family refuses to accept the match, her mother having hoped for so much more in a husband(‘s family). When Jette discovers she is pregnant, her mother is angrier than Jette has ever seen her. She and Frederick flee Germany for America to start a new life together. They don’t have much of a plan and sail to New Orleans and from there determine to go to Missouri.
Before they arrive at the town they had chosen, Jette’s water breaks, and she gives birth to the narrator’s father. With their lack of plans and the kindness of the townspeople, Jette, Frederick, and now Joseph decide to stay in Beatrice, Missouri. The book follows the lives of Jette, Frederick, Joseph, his sister Rosa, and the narrator’s generation throughout the book.
The pace of the book changes with the characters. For much of the book, it is somewhat plodding, as are the characters of Frederick and Jette. Joseph’s section flies a little faster and more haphazard, much as he does. It is only when the narrator tells his tale that the book truly gripped me and didn’t let go until the last page.
This isn’t an uplifting book of overcoming all odds to find love and happiness. It isn’t a feel-good novel. Some of the tragedy could so easily have been avoided, and some of the characters are never redeemed, but there is a glow about the book that takes you into the Meisenheimer family. There is a pull about it, which is why I had to keep checking to see if this was a memoir and not simply a novel.
While this wasn’t the best book I’ve read all year, it was thought-provoking on a number of topics as the book ran through the decades of the twentieth century and all the turmoil that encompassed. Knowing that everything the Meisenheimer family did was for love, whether they were the right choices or not, kept it compelling and strong.
Find out more of what is happening with the Meisenheimer family and discussions of immigration and integration with the BlogHer Book Club discussion over the next four weeks. This week, we’re talking about our personal gastronimic mosaics – the foods we love and what they mean to us. I love that the discussions we have mean you can come join in whether you’ve read the book or not, as there are no spoilers!
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of “A Good American” for review purposes as part of the BlogHer Book Club. I was also compensated for participating in this campaign. That said, all opinions remain my own.