Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books
Publication Date: 2012
Source: Copy provided by the publisher
The Short Version:
A completely charming and enchanting family saga full of characters whose stories will wrap themselves around your heart.
Why I Read It:
When I got the email from a publicist telling me about this book it took me only a few seconds to say yes. Then when it arrived I loved the cover and the look of the book. I was almost afraid to read it because of high expectations but I was not disappointed at all.
When a book is complex I tend to default to the publisher’s synopsis out of fear of my own attempt spinning out of control or giving away too much.
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.
Go. Now. Get this book and read it. Then pass it along to your best friend or better yet a family member.
This book completely charmed me within the first couple of chapters. I was glad I read it on a long plane ride so that I didn’t have to take many breaks in the first half. I love big multigenerational family sagas and this is one of the best I’ve read in ages. It spans four generations without ever becoming too long and drawn out. There is humor, sadness, love, anger, joy and always there is music.
Music is what brings Frederick and Jette together and music is an element that lives on in their family. The path that leads Frederick and Jette to Beatrice is one full of coincidences and fate that leads this young couple to the place their family will call home. As much as some of their descendents want to escape Beatrice, it continues to call them home.
Some of the characters that become part of the family history are a little bit beyond quirky but George makes it all work. It’s a story of a family and a story of America through much of the 20th century. It’s the story of the immigrants that populated this country and became the definition of A Good American.