A Good American – Book Review

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.


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FTC Disclosure: This novel was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

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  1. This is a book that I nave been meaning to read for the past month. I think you have just pushed me over into the “right now” camp. Thanks for the great review, and for piquing my interest in this one again!

      • Wendy on March 22, 2012 at 06:53

      Heather: It is a good book – I hope you’ll enjoy it!

  2. This sounds like a book I’ll love!

      • Wendy on March 22, 2012 at 06:54

      Kathy: I do think this is one you will really like!

  3. Somehow I remain on the fence about reading this one, even after your review! I feel no sense of urgency to read it, which I know means it will languish in the land of unread unless it appears on a prize list. It sounds intriguing, though!

      • Wendy on March 22, 2012 at 06:54

      Carrie: There are so many amazing books out there – it is hard to decide which ones to read, isn’t it?

  4. I have been hearing a lot of good things about this book. I am going to have to work it into my reading one of these days.

      • Wendy on March 22, 2012 at 06:55

      Kailana: It seems like most readers are enjoying this one. Hope you’ll get a chance to read it, too

  5. This book is beginning to get quite a bit of buzz. I love Amy Einhorn Books, so I’m going to add this to my soon-to-be-read list. As usual, you’ve written a lovely review, Wendy.

      • Wendy on March 24, 2012 at 07:44

      Les: I have a feeling you’ll really like this one…can’t wait to see what you think!

  6. I loved this book! I even convinced The Hubster to read it. He started it the other day and seems to be enjoying it so far. He says it’s a nice change from what he normally reads which is mysteries and thrillers.

      • Wendy on March 24, 2012 at 07:44

      Suzi: Glad to hear your hubby is liking this one – I think it is one of those books which has wide appeal (although I do think women will enjoy it more!).

    • Amy on March 25, 2012 at 10:29

    I love family sagas like this especially when they explore immigrants settling in this country and making a good life for themselves and their family. I like to read about the different family members and the family groups that grow and branch off as a result of the first settlers.

    Yours is the first review I’ve read of this book and I’m so glad I did.

    Have you heard of The O’Briens? I think it’s Peter Behrens I think that it s family saga too.

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