A Good American

A Good American

4.2 62
by Alex George
     
 

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“A beautifully written novel, laced with history and music.” —Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven

A LIBRARY JOURNAL BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
A BOOKPAGE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

Everything he’d seen had been unimaginably different from the dry, dour streets of home, and to his surprise he was not sorry in

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Overview

“A beautifully written novel, laced with history and music.” —Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven

A LIBRARY JOURNAL BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
A BOOKPAGE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

Everything he’d seen had been unimaginably different from the dry, dour streets of home, and to his surprise he was not sorry in the slightest. He was smitten by the beguiling otherness of it all.

 

And so began my grandfather’s rapturous love affair with America—an affair that would continue until the day he died.

This is the story of the Meisenheimer family, told by James, a third-generation American living in Beatrice, Missouri. It’s where his German grandparents—Frederick and Jette—found themselves after journeying across the turbulent Atlantic, fording the flood-swollen Mississippi, and being brought to a sudden halt by the broken water of the pregnant Jette.

 A Good American tells of Jette’s dogged determination to feed a town sauerkraut and soul food; the loves and losses of her children, Joseph and Rosa; and the precocious voices of James and his brothers, sometimes raised in discord…sometimes in perfect harmony. 

But above all, A Good American is about the music in Frederick’s heart, a song that began as an aria, was jazzed by ragtime, and became an anthem of love for his adopted country that the family still hears to this day.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“There’s plenty of storytelling charm on display here, with echoes of John Irving’s humane zaniness.”—The New York Times Book Review

“What does it mean to be a good citizen? A good member of a family? In A Good American, George considers both questions with humor, compassion, and grace. A beautifully written novel, laced with history and music.” —Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven

“This lush, epic tale of one family’s journey from immigrants to good Americans had me alternately laughing and crying, but always riveted. It’s a rich, rare treat of a book, and Alex George is a first-rate talent.” —Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants and Ape House

 

"As epic as an opera, as intimate as a lullaby, A Good American swept me through an entire century of triumph and tragedy with the wonderful Meisenheimer family...Alex George has created that rare and beautiful thing—a novel I finished and immediately wanted to start again."—Eleanor Brown, New York Times bestselling author of The Weird Sisters
“A sweeping, lush intergenerational novel about a family…learning to live in twentieth-century America.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

Publishers Weekly
George’s debut novel is a sentimental, lively, and sad family saga spanning four generations, from a couple’s flight out of Germany in 1904 to the hope that their great-grandchildren hold for the future. The story is told by James Martin Meisenheimer, the grandson of the original immigrant couple, the unusually tall Jette and the unabashedly rotund and red-bearded Frederick. This unlikely pair falls in love in Hanover and flees (a mother, not a war) to the U.S. with Jette pregnant. She gives birth to James’s father, Joseph, in Beatrice, Mo., a small town whose residents are capable of both kindness and hatred. Frederick opens a bar, then volunteers for the army and is killed in WWI. Jette turns the bar into a restaurant during Prohibition, a place that feeds the townspeople—with food, yes, but also music—for decades. When James calls his grandmother’s life “one long opera,” full of “love, great big waves of it, crashing ceaselessly against the rocks of life,” he is very much a mouthpiece for author George (and not unlike Styron’s Stingo), whose debut chronicles much of the 20th century through the eyes of one family. George, a British lawyer who has practiced law in London, Paris, and Columbia, Mo., where he now lives, evokes smalltown life lovingly, sometimes disturbingly, and examines the ties of family, the complications of home, and the moments of love and happiness that arrive no matter what. Agent: Emma Sweeney Agency. (Feb.)
USA Today
Music is a hallmark of this novel, too — through the songs coming out of the radio, to the ballads and blues sung in the family restaurant, to the arias Frederick's son Joseph sings to woo his wife. Do you hear me, Broadway? This story would make a delightful musical. Readers also will be moved by this novelist's personal story. George was born in Great Britain but now lives in Missouri. Sometime soon, he'll be sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America.
Library Journal
In this inviting debut novel by a British émigré about several generations of a family seeking to become "good Americans," two young lovers, Frederick Meisenheimer and Jette Furst, emigrate from Germany to the small town of Beatrice, MO, in 1904. George captures both the good and bad qualities of small-town living as he deftly brings Beatrice to life through eloquent portraits of its residents: among them, a fiery preacher who vows to stop shaving until the family patriarch returns to church and a dour dwarf whose beautiful wife captivates the town's young men. The Meisenheimers' risky friendship with an African American jazz musician from New Orleans is particularly moving, and the power of music to help people connect is a recurring theme. VERDICT Despite some dark moments, the book's overall tone is warm and nostalgic as the couple's grandson tells his family's story. George's narrator is bland when compared with his more colorful relatives, and this causes the novel to lose steam once the focus is on his own experiences rather than those of his parents and grandparents. Nonetheless, this memorable and well-written exploration of one family's search for acceptance in America should strongly appeal to readers who enjoy family sagas and historical fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 8/8/11.]—Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
An attorney originally from England, first-time novelist George offers a love song to his adopted state of Missouri in this multigenerational saga of the Meisenheimers from their arrival as German immigrants in 1904 up to the present. Frederick and already pregnant Jette marry on board the boat that brings them to New Orleans, where they immediately experience the kindness of strangers from a Polish Jew and an African-American cornet player. Large, easygoing Frederick immediately falls in love with America. Jette, who instigated their flight, finds herself homesick for the world she wanted to escape. They settle in Beatrice, a small Missouri farming town with many German immigrants, where their baby Joseph is born. A few years later comes his sister Rosa. Frederick opens a bar that thrives, but his marriage to Jette falters. When the United States enters World War I, Frederick enlists—George only glancingly touches the uncomfortable irony that Frederick is fighting against Germans when he is killed—so Jette takes over the bar. Prohibition arrives in 1920, and so does Lomax, the black cornet player from New Orleans. He helps Jette turn the bar into a restaurant offering a mix of German and Cajun specialties and becomes a surrogate father to Rosa and Joseph. But Lomax, who is doing a little bootlegging on the side, ends up murdered, his cornet stolen. Joseph runs the restaurant, now a diner, with Cora. Rosa becomes a spinster teacher. Cora and Joseph have four sons whom Joseph, who inherited Frederick's love of music, turns into a barbershop quartet. Second son James is the novel's narrator, and once he starts describing what he actually remembers, the tone changes. The melodramas of James and his brothers' lives—sexual escapades, religious crises, even the big secret ultimately revealed—are more complicated but less compelling than his parents' and grandparents'. At times the novel feels like a fictionalized historical catalogue, but there are lovely moments of humor and pathos that show real promise.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780425253175
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/05/2013
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
68,964
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“There’s plenty of storytelling charm on display here, with echoes of John Irving’s humane zaniness.”—The New York Times Book Review

“What does it mean to be a good citizen? A good member of a family? In A Good American, George considers both questions with humor, compassion, and grace. A beautifully written novel, laced with history and music.” —Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven

“This lush, epic tale of one family’s journey from immigrants to good Americans had me alternately laughing and crying, but always riveted. It’s a rich, rare treat of a book, and Alex George is a first-rate talent.” —Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants and Ape House
  "As epic as an opera, as intimate as a lullaby, A Good American swept me through an entire century of triumph and tragedy with the wonderful Meisenheimer family...Alex George has created that rare and beautiful thing—a novel I finished and immediately wanted to start again."—Eleanor Brown, New York Times bestselling author of The Weird Sisters
“A sweeping, lush intergenerational novel about a family…learning to live in twentieth-century America.”—O, The Oprah Magazine  

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Meet the Author

Alex George is an Englishman who lives, works, and writes in the middle of America. He studied law at Oxford University and worked for eight years as a corporate lawyer in London and Paris before moving to the United States in 2003.

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A Good American 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 62 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I throughly enjoyed reading "A Good American". This is one of the best books that I have read recently. I could not put the book down. It pulls at your very soul. Alex George is a very good author.
Jude39 More than 1 year ago
This is not the usual story of the immigrant family coming to America, but a total immersion into the lives of generations of the Meisenheimers. The way in which this book is written makes you feel as though you are one of them, feeling their triumphs and hurting with their hurts. But there are some twists and turns that will really get your attention and entice you to think back on the family members and their relationships. This was a 'page turner' until the last one.
AvidfanKS More than 1 year ago
This novel is not just a list of someone's lifetime. It holds some twists and turns you don't expect. The writing is good. The main characters and settings are described so well that you can picture them. I like the variety of ages too. Well done! Alex George captured the Midwest, small town atmosphere. My only dissapointment was a few phrases used were really too modern for the period of time in the setting of the family early history. Otherwise. I would have given this book 5 stars.
flyovercountry More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because my great grandmother's 3d husband was named Meisenheimer. She was widowed twice. I'm descended from a child of her first marriage. So this book hit home. Some of the stories ring notes from my own immigrant family's experience in the late 19th century. Some grieved for their homeland, knowing their journey to America would be a better life, but oh, the heartache and backbreaking work it required. Music and their church community were keys to their survival. I am about half through the book, stalled out, but will soldier on and complete it. However I can't help but overlay this story with those told by my own family story tellers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable read but it is one of the books that it appear the author got tired after a while and just finished it up.
mjandbg More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful story. I have had in my Nook for several months but just finished it today. I honestly thought this story was nonfiction until I read the notes at the end. It is so well written and just a really heartwarming story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rarely do both come together in one package, but A Good American delivers quite satisfactorily. By the end of the novel, Beatrice, Missouri, the Meisenheimers and all the other town's residents feel like home and family. Alex George proves that there are extraordinary stories to be found in the most ordinary lives. Narrated by the late blooming writer of the Meisenheimer family, the story is sustained with both humor and poignancy. Thoroughly enjoyable!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I throughly enjoyed this book. Great cast of characters and interesting plot. Funny, sad and everything in between and beautifully written. If i had to offer a critique it would be that i would have liked to have seen the Kliever family fleshed out a little more considering the ending. All in all very much worth it.
chrissy91 More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful story, just delightful. I am not easily entertained by most of the many novels I read but this one has moved to the top of my list of recommendations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was one of the best books I've read since "Half Broke Horses" and "The Officer's Wife". It's written as an autobiography and in part is due to the author's own experiences, although he changed the names and locale. I thoroughly enjoyed the imagery provoked by the detail and the characters' daily lives. It moves from Germany to Missouri, via New Orleans and covers WWI, racial unrest, and a family's struggle to survive and thrive in a new country. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
American-Patriot More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading The Good American.It follows a couple who emigrates from Germany because of her parents not accepting their love. It includes the story of their ship traveling to America, how they land in New Orleans, then travel to Missouri, make their home there, raise their children, and then follows the next generation. It was interesting, happy and sad at times, and tells about life at that time in America. Good read!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was so eager to read this book, thinking it would be one to curl up with on the couch. After the first few pages, I was still excited and interested in the strong characters. However, as I read further, the story didn't sound like real life. A man leaving his country with only the clothes he's wearing? A bartender who teaches an immigrant wrong English phrases? A wife so addled with pregnancy that she has no other thoughts? A wife who will not read ANY of her soldier husband's letters? Come on! I like this book, but it feels like 'magical realism.' And I felt tricked to find out this is not really the story of the author's own grandparents. The down and dirty of life in an new country was not there. And the simple motivations of some characters did not ring true. I think Alex George writes smooth, flowing prose, but I need characters who are more multidimensional and less cardboard figures.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a marvelous story! A real page turner - I could not put it down. Being a german immigrant myself....it made me think a lot about my countrymen who came here long before me and why...........I look forward to more books from this author!
jkohler More than 1 year ago
I grew up listening to the family stories of my German ancestors, so I was immediately attracted to this book. Although I found the sections and chapters a bit episodic, they present a lot of themes akin to many immigrants from all over. I only wish it would have explored these themes a little deeper. At some points it felt like George was trying to squeeze in too many details, and the jumps in time between chapters were unpredictable, making it hard to know exactly what year or where I was at in the timeline of their lives. Overall though, I found this to be a good, enjoyable read. I live in Missouri, in the same town as the author, so it felt local to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have read in many years. From Germany to Missouri via New Orleans, spanning four generations; the author weaves a tale that is hard to put down. Would make an epic motion picture!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book. A page turner from the very start.
JCgirl 14 hours ago
The story of an immigrant family as they travel from Germany to America. Their adjustment to American life and the children they raise. It is a multigenerational story of the American dream and everyday life that comes in their way. I like this book because the author tells the story through James the third-generation American living in Beatrice, Missouri.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I want this book right now
pxxee More than 1 year ago
Loved this book!!!!! People need to keep in mind that this is a work of fiction and not an historical account of a real family.  It was well written, entertaining, and laced with a subtle humor that made it a fun book to read.  It won't change your life, or teach you American History, but you will embrace this quirky family and enjoy the time you spent with them.   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is another one of those books I couldn't put down and have re-read it more than once. I highly recommend this book to people.
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