Note: I gratefully received this novel as a Goodreads Firstreads in exchange for an honest review.
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.
This Insomniac's opinion:
For the most part I very much enjoyed this novel. My great grandparents would have immigrated from Germany and Switzerland around the same time that Jette and Frederick immigrated to the States in this novel. I was fascinated by their journey and their first experiences with America. I found myself imaging my ancestors on a very similar journey. The first half of this novel follows Jette through her experiences as a new American and I devoured this part of the novel. I was in awe of her strength in even the worst of adversity.
Unfortunately, I wasn't such a fan of the second half of the novel. The narrator of the novel, James(Jette's grandson), comes of age and becomes the main character. I recognize that Jette and James lived very different lives in very different times and that would warrant a marked change in the pace and tone of the novel. I feel that, having the same narrator throughout, there could have been more consistency with the tone. The novel felt like two separate novels hastily sandwiched together. We go from Jette's valiant struggles as a new American in the first half to discussions of James' frequent masturbation and a, shall we say...amorous, high school teacher in the second half. I just couldn't reconcile the differences in the two halves.
Worth staying up all night to read?
I could not read the second half straight through, but I did stay up very late reading the first half.
Rating: 3.5 stars; not a glowing review, but worth a read if you are interested in immigration stories.