Author: Alex George
Published: February 2, 2012
Genre: historical fiction
Hardcover: 400 pages
Source: borrowed from the library
My Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis (from GoodReads): 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.
My Thoughts: Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good piece of historical fiction, so when I found this book, I knew that it would be something that I enjoyed. I always love reading about the immigrant experience to America in the early 1900s, but this one is different from any of the other books that I have read. Instead of going to Ellis Island, the main entry for immigrants to the US, this family arrives in New Orleans and ends up settling in Missouri. I felt like this was a great way for Alex George to differentiate himself from other immigrant tales. Frederick and Jette are introduced to a whole slew of characters in Lousiana and Missouri, and that really helps to add a richness to the story.
The book is narrated by James, Frederick and Jette's grandson. He proves to be a great narrator, especially as he discovers who he is. I was surprised by the end of the book and thought that George did a great job in making sure that the reader was surprised but did not take away from the story. For me, part of what makes America so great is that our country was built by immigrants. We all moved here and formed a great nation, and Frederick and Jette contributed to that growth. George brings new life to the American Dream and shows how infectious that spirit of America was at this time. Frederick loved his new country so much that he was willing to go to war for it and risk his life. Jette may have been homesick, but she never threw in the towel and continued to persevere. Their children contributed to the dream, as did their grandchildren.
This is a great retelling of the American Dream and Alex George put a new spin on the immigrant's tale. He did note at the end of his book that it took him six years to complete this work, but I certainly hope it doesn't take him as long to finish his next one. I am eagerly anticipating it's release!