Saturday, February 04, 2012

A Good American by Alex George


After an hour or so, Frederick sat down on a bench and rested. He was thirsty, and hot. He wiped his brow and thought about returning to the hotel. Just then, the sound of a cornet floated through the air. This was not the sort of dry fugue that echoed through Hanover concert halls. The instrument had been unshackled: it spiraled upward, a whirlwind of graceful elision and complex melody. The music streaked into the night, every note dripping with joy. He stood up and followed the sound.

~p. 23 of Advance Reader's Copy: A Good American [Some changes may have been made to the final print version]

Here's a new way to find a book. I started reading the buzz about A Good American by Alex George in late fall of 2011 and was particularly interested in the fact that the characters' immigrant story bears some remarkable similarities to my own family's history. But, it was the author's graciousness (discovered via various tweets) that captured me. I wanted to know more about his book simply because he seemed like such a nice guy. Authors, put that in your pipe and smoke it. Being nice can get you some attention. In my case, I got lucky and managed to snag an advance reader, although I had already added the book to my wish list well before the opportunity to acquire a review copy presented itself.

It's been a month since I read A Good American, but no worries about the time delay between reading and reviewing. A Good American is the kind of family saga that sticks to your ribs like a well-balanced meal.

In early 20th-century Prussia, Jette's parents have pretty much given up hope of ever marrying off their daughter till Frederick woos her with his beautiful voice and kind spirit. But, Jette's family will never approve of Frederick and eventually the couple has no choice but to run away. Jette steals a small family heirloom and Frederick is forced to leave with nothing but the clothing on his back as they set off for America.

So begins the story of the Meisenheimer family, narrated by James Meisenheimer, Jette and Frederick's grandson. From Frederick and Jette's journey to New Orleans to the generations that follow in Beatrice, Missouri, A Good American tells the story of a music- and food-loving immigrant American family through births and deaths, challenges and joys.

What I loved about A Good American:

Besides the fact that A Good American is a well-written book, I absolutely adore all the references to music and the gradual changes in the bar/restaurant that the family works in, eventually owns, then passes on through three generations. The changes in the restaurant and the descriptions of food are all believable and add interest to this family saga.

Alex George's writing is lovely, intelligent writing.

He gazed up at the sky, so different from home. In Europe the stars hunkered down low across the night, dull and pendulous. Here, though, the heavens were filled with a million dazzling celestial bodies, each one casually brushing up to infinity.

"I could get to like this place," he said.

~p. 47

I also thought the author did a good job of handling the accent of a black character from New Orleans. The tendency of most non-native writers is to overdo Southern accents of any kind, heavily emphasizing tricky dialect that can vary dramatically from one Southern region or city to the next. The author kept his Southern character's dialogue subtle. I thought the skill with which the author handled those bits of Southern dialogue was particularly amazing given the fact that the author is British.

What I disliked about A Good American:

The last 75 pages or so were weaker than the rest of the book, in my humble opinion, but that may be partly because I enjoyed reading about the earlier time period more than the modern. Once we got to the narrator's story of his own life, it also became a little bit more "coming of age" and less a family saga -- just a little. I really dislike "coming of age" stories, so the historical parts won me over and the latter bit lost me a little. But that is, as I said, a personal preference. I did like the way the book ended.

Otherwise, the only thing that really jumped out at me was that too many people died. There came a point that I felt like the deaths were starting to stand out; they began to feel like plot points.

The bottom line:

A well-written novel with a charming emphasis on food and music, recommended particularly to those who love family sagas but also a rocking fine novel for just about anyone. There are some brief scenes of graphic violence and a bit of the coming-of-age type of sexual stuff, but nothing that will warp your kid for life if he or she happens to pick up your copy (this is adult fiction, not YA, in case that sentence is misleading).

You can follow Alex George on his Facebook author page or visit Alex George's website to learn more about A Good American and the author (who will become an American citizen, soon). A Good American is getting a tremendous amount of attention. It's the #1 Indie Next Pick for February, has been listed on Oprah.com as one of February's "Books to Watch For," and is being touted as one of the "best books of the month" on Amazon. Wow! That's some major attention.

Mr. George just happens to hail from one of my favorite towns in England. We stopped through Marlborough, last year, and ate here:

Definitely a place worth stopping, if you ever happen to find yourself in Wiltshire.

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

22 comments:

  1. This sounds like the type of book I often find myself in the mood for. Not that you'd notice, what with all the silly YA I read, but, yeah. I'll have to keep it in mind.

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    1. I don't think there's anything wrong with reading a lot of "silly YA" but if you're in the mood for something a little meatier, A Good American is pretty awesome. You should definitely read it. :)

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  2. I keep reading great things about this book. It sounds right up my alley.

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    1. I do believe you'd like it, Kathy. :)

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  3. I have been hearing lots about this book but I haven't decided if I want to read it or not.

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    1. Well, hmm. Maybe if I hypnotize you. Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, Kelly. You will be under my influence in 4-3-2-1. *snap* You're under. You are dying to read this book. And, *snap*, now you're back. How do you feel about it, now? :)

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  4. YA isn't usually my thing, but this does sound good. Thanks for the honest heads up about some things!

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    1. Oh, sorry if that comment misled you, Holly. A Good American is absolutely *not* YA. It's general fiction. I just like to mention it if there's graphic violence or sexual anything, for the sake of those who have precocious youngsters . . . mine read adult novels by the age of about 9 or 10.

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  5. This sounds quite good, and I love that image on the cover of the notes coming out of the cornet!

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    1. Ack! I forgot to add my cover thoughts, again! Isn't the cover wonderful? I did enjoy A Good American. Pretty sure you'd like it, too, Jill.

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  6. Hi, I followed Alex's link to your blog and review. I'm about a quarter way into it now, and really enjoying. I also "met" Alex on twitter, and find him to be so kind.
    Wonderful review, and no revealing details, thank you!!

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    1. HI, Anita, nice to meet you! I try very hard not to write spoilers (but don't always succeed). Thanks, I'm glad this review worked for you. I'd definitely have hated to ruin it, for you! Alex is definitely cool. I think he's very deserving of the attention he's getting for A Good American. Enjoy your reading!

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  7. I keep seeing such positive reviews of this one. I'm glad you liked it, and your review has intrigued me even more, Nancy! Thanks!

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    1. Andiloo, it's a good one. My review isn't as gushy as most that I've seen, but most of the time it swept me up so nicely that my editor brain did manage to shut off -- which is huge, ya know. :)

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  8. I'm thinking about putting this one in my TBR stack. I've read quite a few good things about it. My father-in-law was a music professor and I'm thinking he might enjoy reading it after me. I have to see if it's "appropriate" first (just like a kid, but the other end of the spectrum). LOL

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    1. LOL So, your FIL is like me. I don't like graphic sex or violence but a little doesn't bother me. I didn't think it was overdone at all in A Good American and he'll *definitely* appreciate the music references. I think it's fine and dandy to pre-read a book to screen for a loved one's unique sensibilities. I did that for Kiddo and discussed anything I thought was offensive with him, rather than stopping him from reading books.

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  9. First they despair of marrying her off and then he's not good enough for her. Parents. The book does sound interesting though!

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    1. It's very much a Downton-Abbeyish type of thing. "You must marry someone of our station," blah blah. Sometimes it pays to have been born in the latter half of the 20th century. :)

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  10. AND he's now in one of my favorite towns in Missouri! (just how exactly did you 'luck' out to get an advanced copy?!)

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    1. I think it was the Fates that drew the book and the Bookfool together. I usually don't read Shelf Awareness newsletters because I'm afraid I'll just end up requesting books I don't have time to read, but one day I had a wild hare and opened SA. There was A Good American, available for request. I signed the little form and held my breath for 2 weeks. It was a rainbow and sparkles stroke of luck. :)

      I can't part with my copy, but the next time we go on a Girls' Trip, I'll loan you mine. We should find a place to go, yes?

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  11. Jon Mansfield10:39 AM

    Very interesting. I've just commented on Alex's blog from a twitter feed (it was concerning the difference between the book's US jacket and the soon-to-be UK jacket). I was glad to read the book will be available to us (UK) soon and even more surprised that Alex is from Marlborough - the very town where I live and work :)

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    1. Oh, Jon, you lucky guy. I adore Marlborough. It says on the jacket that Alex has lived in London and Paris (and, of course, he's now in Missouri and about to become an American citizen) so I take it he hasn't lived there for quite a while but still has family there.

      You've piqued my curiosity about the UK jacket. I'll have to look that up. I think the American cover is a winner, although I neglected to add the usual "cover thoughts" to my review. It's very eye-catching and apropos, in my humble opinion.

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